Art Exhibit Speaks to Extinction, in Animal Kingdom and Black America

by Amanda Ong

South Jackson Street’s King Street Station is an iconic landmark for Seattle history as an entry point for Chinese immigrants and Black migrants in the early 1900s. A bustling transit center today, the station is also a lively arts space and gallery hosted by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and affectionately referred to by staff as “KiSS” for short. The nickname rings true as a warm invitation to its public arts space and for showing some love to underrepresented artists.

“Effectively, the gallery is an incubator, and this is where you’re going to see many of our unserved and underserved artists or emerging artists having exhibitions,” Royal Alley-Barnes, acting director of the arts at the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, told the Emerald. “It’s like a hub, it’s like information gathering and networking and community building … [and it] is actually available to the public.”

The gallery space at KiSS is currently hosting an exhibit by artist Carol Rashawnna Williams, “The 1 Million – Multiple Species Eradication.” The exhibit discusses not only mass animal extinction, but also explores the topic’s interconnection with systemic racism. The exhibit features paintings of animals on the extinction list, with contributions from artists Amaranta Ibarra-Sandys, Paula Oliver, Noa Piper, Sydney Pertl, Kelly and Hope Bain, and Rosalind Davis Guterson. According to WIlliams, the idea is to explore the connection between mass animal extinction and systemic racism.

“I really wanted to highlight the fact that the challenges that we’re dealing with right now with animal extinction and eradication is the same mind frame, same thinking, same paradigm, and same system that we are operating in around race and social justice relations,” Williams told the Emerald. “Especially when we’re speaking about African Americans and specifically Indigenous folks.”

Williams uses a unique monoprint technique made of acrylic paintings on torn, hand-dyed fabrics. Because of the variation in the fabric, the installation seems to change throughout the day as the light changes. Many of the paintings represent more than one unique species near extinction. For instance, a painting of two snakes represents more than 100 species of snakes.

“The 1 Million – Multiple Species Eradication” explores the many animal species at risk of extinction, and those that have already been wiped out, along with the intersections of systemic racism. (Photo: Chloe Collyer)

Alley-Barnes says exhibits like “The 1 Million” are exactly why the KiSS gallery was created in 2016. The Office of Arts & Culture decided to create an art space run by a curatorial group of community advisers rather than a traditional gallery system as a means to allow unfettered iteration and access for BIPOC artists to generate and present their work.

“There’s no better curator than the artists, so this gallery does not have a formal curator structure whatsoever,” Alley-Barnes said. “This exhibition begins to actually symbolize what KiSS does as a gallery. … It’s the kind of exhibition that not only engages you visually, but really pushes you to think about where you want to be in all of this discovery that [Carol is] sharing.” 

Wlliams’ work on “The 1 Million” started nearly three years ago, when she read an article about the 1 million animals now at risk of extinction in National Geographic. As a self-described “army brat,” Williams grew up in several places all over the world, but always near forests and wildlife. As a result, she grew up with a deep love for the environment. The article made her feel depressed for weeks, and she began to think about the impact of nature in her own life.

As she reckoned with this and her own racial identity, the idea for “The 1 Million” began to take shape. She was accepted to create the project for the KiSS gallery, but it was postponed for a year after the pandemic started. 

When George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by police in 2020, conversations about race erupted in mainstream culture and on the streets. Williams was living in Downtown Seattle at the time, watching as protests and sweeps of homeless encampments happened on the same streets where rising rents pushed out many longtime residents. 

“This particular exhibition really marked a point in my career where I specifically focused on resource extraction,” Williams said. “To show how resource extraction is deeply rooted and connected to African American identity in terms of European paradigms.”

As such, “The 1 Million” draws parallels between the systemic abuses of capitalism, consumption, and resource exploitation, which have led to the eradication of millions of animal species and many Black Americans. 

“[Williams’ exhibit] makes you think of how vulnerable [animal] species are … [and] how vulnerable the human species is,” Alley-Barnes said. “[Especially when] we have an underlayment of inveterate racism.”

The exhibit was created over a span of two years, with several of the contributing artists living in relative physical isolation but forming intimate conversations through this piece. The experience speaks to the intentions of the KiSS gallery as a nontraditional art incubator.

Williams notes that as individuals, it often feels impossible to stop climate change, mass extinction, and racial violence, but she hopes the exhibit will encourage people to make connections between the two and see our responsibility to both. 

A Black security guard at KiSS spoke to Williams about the work impacting her. 

“That, to me, is the shift,” Williams said. “[She] now has a deeper understanding not only of the fact that now somebody sees her, because I see her experience. But now she has a deeper understanding of the environmental impact that’s happening. … And now she is committed to doing something different around environmental change. And to me … that’s the purpose.”

“The 1 Million – Multiple Species Eradication” is open at King Street Station until April 7. ARTS at King Street Station is located at 303 S. Jackson St. and is free and open Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

Featured Image: Detail from “The 1 Million – Multiple Species Eradication” by Carol Rashawnna Williams, with Amaranta Ibarra-Sandys, Noa Piper, Paula Oliver, Sydney Pertl, Kelly and Hope Bain, and Rosalind Davis Guterson. Fabric, acrylic, safety pins, 2019–2022. (Photo: Chloe Collyer)

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