The Black On Black Project

Equity over Equality™

In 'Free Lunch,' Lamar Whidbee allows the students to have a say

Artist Lamar Whidbee, who recently earned his MFA in Studio Art from UNC-Chapel Hill, opens his latest solo exhibition, "Free Lunch." The exhibition raises questions about the social conditions of students that come from impoverished areas of America, and how they're represented in gifted programs within the school system. #WhidbeeFreeLunch

Opening Saturday, August 12 at Anchorlight, the exhibition includes contributions from students who took part in the Artspace summer art program, along with youth from Neighbor to Neighbor Outreach.

"Free Lunch" is presented by The Black On Black Project. 

The Q&A below is by Laken Geiger. Read on to learn more about Whidbee and the exhibition. RSVP to the opening reception via Facebook.

Laken Geiger: Take me back to when you first began thinking about "Free Lunch."

Lamar Whidbee: I was finishing up my grad program and had the opportunity to show in Anchorlight. It started out as me wanting to do a mapping project on Title I schools, but then this investigative series by The News & Observer was published. It was perfect, because all of my work is centered on community, community involvement and the empowerment of those who are easily overlooked. 

LG: What was it about this news article? 

LW: I went to a Title I school. I was probably one paycheck away from being eligible for free and reduced lunch and was very much in the low income environment. It was true outside of the school too; very evident in the community I was raised in. 

It's easy to ignore "statistics" and forget these "statistics" are humans, and few actually act or stand up for their potential. Circumstances [dictate] their opportunities. The problem continues to perpetuate. Why can't we see beyond this bubble? 

LG: Describe the process of the student collaboration?

LW: I went to one of the Artspace summer art programs and met with the students over two days. I introduced myself and shared what I wanted to do, and I photographed about seven of the participants whose ages ranged from 12 to 18 years old.

As I took their photos, they told me about themselves and their personalities came out. Once I documented their portraits, I went home and sketched. I brought their sketches in with me the second day and let each one add watercolor, pastels and other mediums to their portraits. 

LG: What did you pick up from the students involved? 

LW: They understood the message and what we were doing as a group. When I brought their portrait sketches in they were ready to do more. With these portraits, I'm helping to erase biases and open up other perspectives. It's about realizing what you can do versus being put into a group and being told what you can do, which is some of what you'll read in the N&O series.

LG: What's your definition of success? 

LW: Success in my life is me setting goals — not based on societal standards, but based on my own morals and values — and reaching them. 

LG: Does this ring true with your art? 

LW: Art was what I understood, and I just followed that instinct. Seeing opportunities and setting goals to get there does require yearning for more and ambition to search for more information, but there has to be some level of curiosity. The real issue is turning a blind eye to the situation. It takes courage to see what else is available; that's the journey to success. 

LG: Is there a student success story that sticks with you?

LW: One participant wrote in their success statement, "I will be successful because I am doctor." It wasn't an "if" or "when" statement, it was definitive. He spoke it into existence.

When I think back to my hometown and to the kids I worked with, I hope others believe in themselves and don't think they have to leave in order to be successful, and that they understand street life doesn't have to be their path.  

LG: How has working with the students pushed your perceptions or boundaries for what's possible creatively, socially or otherwise? 

LW: How this project has changed me is it just gives me the drive and motivation to develop my community. So when I move to a [different] city or suburban area, it has given me the drive to continue to improve disparities wherever that may be. 

Lamar Whidbee's "Free Lunch"

Presented by The Black On Black Project
Where: Anchorlight, 1401 S. Bloodworth St. Raleigh, NC 27610
Dates: August 12 to September 9
Opening reception: August 12, 6 to 9 p.m.; RSVP on Facebook
Hours: By appointment only with the exception of special events; contact us to make an appointment