Frist Art Museum Examines Implicit Racial Bias with ‘Blood at the Root’ Installation

The Frist Art Museum presents Blood at the Root, an immersive outdoor pop-up installation created by Nashville artists EXO:DUS (Elisheba Israel Mrozik and Aaron Mrozik) that explores how implicit bias can develop over time within families. The work will be on view in the Frist’s Turner Courtyard on Thursdays through Sundays, October 1 through November 1, 2020 and is free to the public.

Stemming from a conversation between the Mroziks—an interracial married couple—that was sparked by recent calls for racial justice, Blood at the Root offers an opportunity for visitors to consider how racial issues were addressed during their own upbringings.

The domestic tableau installed inside of a small camper trailer features furniture, everyday household items, audio recordings, and photographs meant to evoke a typical white middle-class home. Close looking reveals that several objects have racist undertones and that the eyes of many figures have been marked out by flame-like strokes of white paint, suggesting that the notion of white supremacy is subtly, sometimes even unknowingly, passed from one generation to the next.

EXO:DUS’s artist statement begins with the observation that paradigms and worldviews “are not built in a day” but “slowly, over time,” as “patient, small threads to a demanding anchor line. They hold us to our group and heritage, and in little ways inform our identity over time. White supremacy is no exception.”

EXO:DUS. Blood at the Root (detail), 2020. Mixed media installation. Courtesy of the artists. © EXO:DUS. Photo: Aaron Mrozik

Frist Art Museum curator Katie Delmez says, “For some viewers, especially those who relate to the items they see, the environment may elicit feelings of discomfort or defensiveness. It is important to note, however, that Blood at the Root is offered in a spirit of empathy and reconciliation, and that at least one of the artists will always be on-site to engage with visitors in meaningful dialogue about racism, arguably our nation’s most persistent and deep-seated ailment.”

While developing the concept for this project shortly after the killing of George Floyd and ensuing protests, Elisheba Mrozik, whose work Unmask ’Em was included in the Frist’s 2019 exhibition Murals of North Nashville Now, wrote, “I want to try to reach those who genuinely think they aren’t racist or have implicit bias without them always feeling attacked with rhetoric. So, I sat down with my husband and we talked and had a conversation that we’ve never had before. Out of that conversation this installation idea came to life.”

Blood at the Root was first displayed in July at the Mroziks’ North Nashville studio, One Drop Ink Tattoo Parlour and Gallery, during the Jefferson Street Art Crawl.

“The Frist is hosting Blood at the Root on its campus because the initiative shares the museum’s longtime vision of inspiring people through art to look at their world in new ways,” says Delmez. “Current events have deepened the Frist’s commitment to our community and prompted efforts to respond in real time to the shifts taking place.”

The installation is intended to be experienced alone or with one other person in a visitor group to maintain proper physical distancing protocols. An introductory video will be presented outside the for guests to view before they enter, and a QR code at the exit will connect them with further anti-racist resources. Visitors will be encouraged to tag @FristArtMuseum when sharing reflections on their own experiences on social media.

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