In “CURRENT|UNDERCURRENT,” an online show at UMass Amherst’s Hampden Gallery on view through May 14, both the acute and the latent pains of an unequal and unhealed America are exposed, dissected and felt. The exhibition, curated by Linda Griggs and M. Charlene Stevens, is overtly personal and political; consequently, it lends itself to vastly different viewing experiences. The show begins with works curated by Griggs which are organized into four themes: the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice, climate change and the economy. These themes reflect “the four key points that then President-elect Biden vowed to address on his first day in office,” and many intersect across and within individual works.
The first piece in the exhibition, Christina Marsh’s “One Drop,” features 100 cups containing various shades of chocolate milk. The cups sit in rows on a white painted floor, each above a printed name. The title of the work refers to the “one drop rule,” the dominant conception of race in America in the 20th century, with both social and legal implications, where an individual was considered Black if they had one or more Black ancestors. In Marsh’s piece, the milk has curdled and rings of chocolate stick to the tops of the glasses. What at first appears sugary-sweet and wholesome — indeed an icon of American food and childhood — has been transformed by time, scale and association into something sickening; revealed as artificial and arbitrary.