Conceptions of White

6 August 2022 – 13 November 2022

About the Exhibition

Curated By


Organized & Circulated By

The MacKenzie Art Gallery


RHW, Hill & Rawlinson Galleries

An exhibition that examines the myths and meanings behind the idea of a “White race”—a relatively recent invention that helped shape the modern world.

Conceptions of White is an exhibition offering context and nuanced perspectives that help viewers grapple with contemporary configurations of White identity. The exhibition examines the origins, travel, and present reality of “Whiteness” as a concept and a racial invention that classifies degrees of civility/humanity. Select historical objects and artworks illustrate White origin myths within their historical context, revealing Whiteness as a North American, settler-colonial invention of the seventeenth century, created alongside “Blackness” and “Aboriginality.” The contemporary artists in this exhibition complicate this historical foundation by examining how these acts of racialization are felt today through concepts of White guilt, anxiety, supremacy, benevolence, fragility, and power. These artists force us to confront the ideology of cultural erasure embedded in the social construction of Whiteness, the ramifications of its continually expanding borders, and the society fostered by this relatively young theory of racial categorization. Together, the diverse narratives, images, and concepts presented in Conceptions of White examine the existential, experiential, and ethical dimensions of engaging in classifications of Whiteness, while also drawing on the conceptual connections between colonial Whiteness and the aesthetic, social, and philosophical meaning we ascribe to the colour white.

The exhibition is framed through a biracial lens with both curators seeking a clearer understanding of their own relationship to Whiteness. John G. Hampton (Chickasaw/Canadian/American) is the Executive Director and CEO of the MacKenzie Art Gallery and Lillian O’Brien Davis (Jamaican/Canadian) is the Curator of Exhibitions and Public Programming at Gallery 44.

Research toolkit available here

Touring Details

Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Toronto ON: January 11–March 25, 2023

Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC: September 9, 2023-February 4, 2024 (Final Venue)


Artists in the Exhibition

Arthur Jafa
Barbara Meneley
Deanna Bowen
Fred Wilson
Hiram Powers
Howardena Pindell
Jennifer Chan
Jeremy Bailey

Ken Gonzales-Day
Michèle Lalonde
Nell Painter
Nicholas Galanin
Robert Morris
Ryan Kuo
Artist once known, after Leochares

Works in the Exhibition

Picture of Ken Gonzales-Day's black and white vinyl wall installation titled

Ken Gonzales-Day, The Wonder Gaze, St. James Park, 2006–2022,vinyl wall installation. Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. Photo by: Carey Shaw, courtesy of the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

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