Reception: Friday, Dec. 20, 6–9 p.m., free

On view through Saturday, Jan. 4

DAG Gallery and Studios at Golden Belt Campus, Durham

Art is political; it is unapologetic; it is rage; it is painful; it is love. At its core, art is a medium for the artists and audience to connect through stories.

In the solo exhibit Trigger Warning—which is on view at Golden Belt’s DAG Gallery through January 4, with a reception and portrait party from 6:00–9:00 p.m. tonight—Durham Art Guild artist-in-residence Jade Wilson boldly captures the painful, often traumatic experiences that people of color and queer folks face in subtle ways.

Yet the subtlety heightens the impact of the pieces, in which Wilson combines typography, photography, repetition, and the elimination of color to loosely conceptualize hood politics. [Disclosure: Wilson is the INDY’s staff photographer.]

“I realized that my focus was the hood,” Wilson says. “To even begin the conversation is important, and it’s just the beginning of something that’s major.” Their use of rhetorical devices such as diction, satire, and hood colloquialisms allows them to unapologetically express frustration and anger while rejecting respectability politics related to language, even when being censored.

Within days of the exhibit’s opening, Golden Belt asked Wilson to censor the word “bitch” in the piece “Displacement Letter,” citing the studio being a family-friendly space as justification. Wilson shared their frustrations on Facebook, accompanied by a picture of the newly censored piece, which now includes masking tape blocking out the letters “itc.”

The post received overwhelming support from the community, including Natasha Powell Walker, the board chair of the Durham Art Guild, who posted that she was “ABSOLUTELY NOT OK with this” and doesn’t believe in censoring artists. 

“Displacement Letter” consists of eight panels of near the glass entryway of the art studio. The irony, Wilson says, is that the word “bitch” is the least jarring in the show. Another piece, the exhibit’s most provocative, isn’t as visible from outside the gallery. Its profanity and its message is repeated in a very small font. 

“If you know what it is, you know what it is, and if you don’t, you don’t,” Wilson says.

Although the exhibit uses profanity in a daring way, Wilson rarely swears in everyday conversations. “I mean, I do sometimes, but not really,” they say, with a slight laugh. “But this is how I feel, and I’m not the only one who feels this way, and the people that do feel this way and actually know this term will be able to connect. This is a big boundary for me to push, personally, because I always played it safe.”

Wilson’s desire not to play it safe was a recurring theme in our conversation. As a black queer non-binary artist, they bring awareness to the fatal violence that disproportionately affects transgender women of color through an interactive piece titled “Say Their Names.” Attendees are asked to respond by writing directly on the artwork.

“I’m asking people to write the names of the folks that we lost or are missing,” Wilson says. Similar to the #SayHerName social movement, which called attention to police brutality and anti-Black violence against women and girls, Wilson is requesting all to think critically about the lives of Black trans women.

“To me this was something for myself, to educate myself and to open the door to educate others,” Wilson says.  

Taking into consideration the deprived conditions of the exhibit’s subjects, Wilson avoided the use of portraits.  

“I was thinking about how folks consume other peoples’ pain,” Wilson says. “They love to see portraits of people who are struggling, and it just doesn’t vibe with me.”

For Wilson, art is therapeutic. “I never really expressed myself until I learned how to take photograph,” they say. As the title of the exhibit warns, the artwork might be triggering for some, but others will feel seen and heard. Whether they see themselves or people they know represented, the stories, challenges, and trauma depicted will feel all too familiar.