Shape of History by Ashley Xu


Ashley Xu

Shape of History

This piece is a reflection of my research into the issue of mass incarceration in the United States which has been shaped into what we know today by the Jim Crow Laws, redlining policies, and other injust measures such as the Clinton Crime Bill. To understand systemic racism is to understand the impacts of our country’s traumatic history. From this, I have developed a firm belief in the importance of looking beyond the surface level of current events to analyzing its origins at hand.

In “Shape of History,” I wanted to demonstrate how racial stereotypes and implicit bias are all trickle-down effects of bigger, more complex issues. The androgynous, feature-less figure in the foreground is smothered with a sheet cloth, which represents a “second skin” that provides both anonymity and distress. This “second skin” parallels how one’s identity is so easily eclipsed and dominated by America’s specific conception of “race,” which operates primarily on appearance and skin tone. However, we are reminded that people of color are not as much oppressed for the color of their skin, but by the connotations imposed upon them. Behind the cloth-covered figure, a clock and a swirling pattern reminiscing Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, symbolizes the passage of time and history. Mechanical and methodical like the moving gear wheels, one event pushes forward to another and slowly comes to form our current reality.