Reflection: Confronting Implicit Bias Inspired by Quentin Morris

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

The recent murder of George Floyd, among many other Black people, calls again for us to reflect on our own biases and consider what more we can do to fight racism. Artist Quentin Morris has been impacted by years of witnessing racial conflict.

I remember I was influenced by every September that rolled around. You had all these people screaming, hollering, going berserk, because they were integrating the schools. You had these little kids going in with military escorts. That was every September. It stayed with me, growing up in the 50s with the Civil Rights Movement, supposedly starting with Martin Luther King. You have to remember there have always been people who were agitating, all the way back to the 18th century. This is just a continuation.

Quentin Morris, “Pew Fellow of the Week: An Interview with Visual Artist Quentin Morris,” Questions of Practice, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage
A hand-brushed circle of deep black pigment is tacked directly on a white gallery wall. The circle is reflected in the gallery floor.
Quentin Morris, Untitled (January-February 1994), 1994, Carnegie Museum of Art, © Quentin Morris

Morris, a Philadelphia-born and based artist, remembers frequenting the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a child with his father. When asked about the role advocacy takes in his work in an Artblog piece, he explains, “part of my work is a social comment about what has happened and what is ongoing, unfortunately. It is not all, but it’s a large part of what I do.”

Morris explores the concept of Blackness and the color black in his painting, Untitled (January-February 1994), which is in the CMOA collection. The unframed artwork was tacked directly on the gallery wall during CMOA’s exhibition 20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Carnegie Museum of Art. The canvas measures over nine feet in diameter and invites viewers to take notice of the shape, surface texture, and color of the hand-brushed circle of deep black pigment. The installation view shows the painting’s reflection on the polished white gallery floor. Talking to the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Morris describes his goal “to present black’s enigmatic beauty and infinite depth; to refute all negative cultural mythologies about the color, and ultimately to create work that innately expresses the all-encompassing spirituality of life.”

As you look at Untitled (January-February 1994), contemplate Morris’ subject, the color black.

  • Find a paper and something to write with.
  • List the words or ideas that you associate with the color black.
  • List the words or ideas that you associate with Blackness.
  • Which do you feel are positive, which are negative? Why?
  • How has society conditioned you to make these associations?
  • Which negative associations are you willing to unlearn to build a more just world?

It is always important to reflect about our personal biases, especially during this significant moment in history.

Implicit bias is defined by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as “associations we harbor in our subconscious that cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages. In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.”

  • Refer to your list again. Do you see evidence of implicit bias in your reflection?
  • Check out the self-examination resources available at Harvard’s Project Implicit.