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Artist: Ruth Owens Primary
Growing up in a military family, Ruth Owens was enrolled in many different schools. One that she attended from Kindergarten through third grade during the civil rights era was all-black. The students were significantly behind the national academic average then and this failure continues to this day. The inadequacy of our public schools for many black children can be seen throughout the U.S., and Lessons Lost, 2020 (96” x 96”) proposes to stimulate public discourse about this inequity. Edelweiss Shower, 2019 is a study for this large work acquired by the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. These paintings highlight the way systemic power structures set the stage for economic disparity from a very early age. They deny crucial educational opportunities necessary for financial stability later in life.
Ruth’s 1964 kindergarten graduation photo serves as a reference image for these paintings made in water-based mediums on paper. Optimistic young faces in their white caps and gowns are rendered in muted tones on paper, an impermanent medium consistent with the vulnerability of children. Their wide-eyed small bodies are surrounded by the Alpine edelweiss bloom, suggesting the ever-present concerns of a dominant Northern European culture. Their faces, however, are hopeful and inject an element of possibility in otherwise untenable circumstances.
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