Graduate school artist uses art to raise questions on racial identity

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By Marshall Cooper

When he was growing up, Dewayne Wrencher questioned his identity. He would always be told that he needed to learn who he was as a black man. Now as an artist and a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts at Stony Brook, the self proclaimed “native born black man” works on artwork that triggers the dialogue about identity.

Wrencher’s piece “Hair Theory,” based on five years of research, shows society’s responses towards his different African American hairstyles, and is his latest effort to raise questions on racial self-identity.

“Hair Theory” focuses on “ownership of self,” an idea that Wrencher says will help people build curiosity towards certain social realities.

The five distinct hairstyles and skin textures featured on “Hair Theory” show how Wrencher felt treated by society when he wore them.

“All of my work is used to help understand people better and create a self of agency,” Wrencher said. “When they do that, hopefully they don’t have to look elsewhere, whether it be the internet or social trends, to create a sense of self.”

The clean cut and permed hair depicts him as “passing,” a term used to describe someone who is just trying to be a part of regular society; the afro represents being an American born black person, the dreads represent being a black person with cultural ties outside of America, and the braids represent society viewing him as a criminal.

 

In America, only 4.4 percent of art school graduates are African American, what makes Wrencher creations  underrepresented and unique, according to BFAMFAPhD.

“The very first time I encountered his work I didn’t much get the background information,” Daniel Donato, fellow artist and colleague of Wrencher, said. “It didn’t strike me at first but once I understood the questions he raises his art has a presence to it and it impacts me more than just his questions.”

Wrencher, a Chicago native, said he hopes to expand from his art after graduating in May and eventually create a self-identity workshop, where the artist will target high school youth.

“Black What?”, another one of his series, was featured at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery until last Tuesday. The art shows his search for self-identity by exaggerating black facial features to show “black identity in a racialized society,” according to the rationale presented for the exhibit.

“I find some of the faces and lines interesting because they look like they tell a story but you can’t tell what story until you read about what research or vision was implied,” Brianna Williams, a gallery visitor , said.