Jami Porter Lara’s Terms and Conditions offers a space for uncomfortable conversations around identity, womanhood, and whiteness.
Jami Porter Lara: Terms and Conditions
August 13–October 15, 2021
Gerald Peters Contemporary, Santa Fe
Bright white flashing neon signs create a sense of unease while drawing the viewer into Terms and Conditions, Jami Porter Lara’s solo exhibition at Gerald Peters Contemporary in Santa Fe. Porter Lara, perhaps better known for her refined black ceramic forms, makes a departure in this exhibition with her meditations on white. Utilizing a variety of art forms—sign-making, printmaking, lithography, and embroidery—the artist provokes questions around culture, identity, and upbringing.
Apart from the flashing neon signage, the piece most highlighted in the exhibition is She’s a Good Person, a collection of muslin garments in the style of flour-sack dresses made popular during the Great Depression. The spot-lit dresses appear stiff and austere and hang lifelessly from a steel black rack. The garments, ranging from child to adult sizing, boldly display the logos “mother’s best” and “white fear.”
These works play on messages that are passed on culturally, through American commercialism, and intergenerationally among families. The dress, evoking the feminine and domestic, becomes a symbol of racialized messaging handed down matrilineally.
One wall of the exhibition features a small gallery of what appear to be empty frames. Closer examination reveals that the frames contain lithographic prints of white lettering that can only be seen at certain angles. The effect is that of letters appearing and disappearing like invisible ink on a page containing hidden messages. The texts “he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” “they mean well,” and “we don’t talk about politics” are even more obfuscated by their awkward layout on the page; decoding the messages requires a bit of time and concentration on the viewer’s part.
In the center of the room sits a white S-shaped tête-à-tête couch, which could pass for a piece of standard-issue gallery furniture for the patron to rest. But it is in fact another art piece, titled tête-à-tête, that’s designed more as a space for provocation than rest.
The two seats on the couch face opposite sides of the room. Embroidered on the back of one seat is the word “white”; the word “only” is embroidered on the back of the other. From one seat, the viewer is looking at a neon sign flashing alternating messages “whiteness/witness.” From the other seat, the viewer is looking at the gallery on the wall, appearing as empty white frames.
The positioning of the couch feels like a deliberate invitation for the viewer to contemplate perspective. What does it mean to take a seat on a couch bearing the labels “white” and “only”? The feelings and perspective, of course, will depend on the person who is seated. Moving through the exhibition, passing through spotlight and shadow, feels a little like moving through light and dark, the hidden and revealed, through moments of fear, and moments of revelation.
Terms and Conditions could be viewed as the work of an artist reckoning with her own identity, particularly how it relates to gender, culture, and whiteness. It could be viewed as an indictment of transgressive messaging hidden amid a culture of politeness and femininity. Or it could be viewed as a mirror reflecting one’s own hidden beliefs and veiled acts of complicity.
The question of perspective lingers and slightly complicates the exhibition, but at its best, Terms and Conditions creates a space for uncertainty and discomfort, and that is a good place to be.
Terms and Conditions is scheduled to remain on display through October 15, 2021, at Gerald Peters Contemporary, 1011 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe.