Here’s the scenario: two children, one white and one black, walk into an exhibition filled with portraits of white people. Both children enjoy it. After the exhibition they make self-portraits out of food. The black child asks for brown ingredients – cocoa pops, hot chocolate powder – to represent his skin in the portrait. The white child does not bother with colour in the same way. Her whiteness is not a colour that needs to be marked or thought about, it is naturalized as normal, a seamless part of the wall-to-wall whiteness of the surrounding exhibition. On closer inspection the portraits show further nuances of colouring and also commonality. Other features such as nose, lips, eyes and hair were not represented mimetically. As the brown skin colour of the portrait on the left stands out because of its purposeful colouring, it creates a link between the child and their artwork, making visible what is taken for granted in this space – whiteness.



Slave shackles and silverware from Fred Wilson’s exhibition Mining the Museum at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992.

“By titling his installation “Mining the Museum,” the artist set up a three-way pun: excavating the collections to extract the buried presence of racial minorities, planting emotionally explosive historical material to raise consciousness and effect institutional change, and finding reflections of himself within the museum “Où est mon visage?,” reads Wilson’s label accompanying Joshua Johnson’s 19th-century portrait of a white family. An artist of African and Carib Indian ancestry, Wilson identified with Johnson, who was black, and of whom there are no known portrait.
“ Mining the Museum” occupied the entire third floor at MHS, extending through a linked sequence of eight rooms. The wall colors—successively gray, green, red and blue— were components of Wilson’s “palette,” as visitors moved through the “gray” area of  historical truths,  the “green” quarters of human emotions, the “red” environs of slavery and rebellion, and the celestial “blue” spheres of dreams and achievements. [x]