What is White?

Nora Howell's performance sculpture and video examines the meaning of whiteness.

Nora Howell moved to Baltimore in 2009 and lives in Sandtown in West Baltimore. After earning a bachelor’s in studio art from Wheaton College in Illinois, she attended the Maryland Institute College of Art to receive an MA and MFA in Community Arts. Citing the benefits of living in Baltimore, Howell says, “Baltimore has provided me opportunities to exhibit my work and introduced me to an exciting community of artists and a network of nonprofit organizations who use art in their programming and methodology to bring about social change. Most significantly, as one of the few white people living in Sandtown, I had to confront the implications of my whiteness, how it impacted and was perceived by my neighbors. Between learning from my neighbors and teaching in Baltimore city schools, I started making art examining what it meant to be white in the 21st century. My experiences dealing with race—in particular, whiteness—in Baltimore has convinced me of the need to generate conversation and social change around issues of racism.”

According to Howell, “My recent works are primarily performance-based sculpture and video examining ‘whiteness.’ Transitioning between communities where I am the racial majority and others where I am the numerical minority has convinced me of the necessity of talking about whiteness. My work utilizes fashion and cultural signifiers such as white bread, crackers, marshmallows, and Oreos as an entry point into a topic that is historically difficult to approach. The performative and interactive aspect of my work allows me to instigate dialogue, reflection, and action around whiteness. In tandem with my art making, I facilitate art-making workshops about racial identity. I am committed to using art as a catalyst for conversation and social change—a method of processing and articulating ideas. W.E.B. DuBois talks about people of color having a double consciousness; my hope for white people, is that we would have a consciousness.”