Artist Bill Gaskins embarks on more provocative projects


The Kansas City Star

Photographer and cultural critic Bill Gaskins accomplished a lot during his 1996-98 stint as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

As a teacher, he deepened and intensified the conversation about race through his course, “Race and Representation.” He also took the discussion to the broader community through various panels and forums.

During Gaskins’ time in Kansas City, Rutgers University Press published his book, “Good and Bad Hair,” an illuminating photographic essay about how hairstyling factors into the identity and representation of African-Americans.

His activities here led to a major commission from the Sprint Corp. in 2000.

Created for the employee fitness center at the Overland Park headquarters, Gaskins’ large photographic triptych, “Exercising Benefits” (2002), sought to counter unreachable ideals of the perfect body.

A native of Philadelphia, Gaskins returned East in 1998 to take a teaching job at the Parsons School of Design in New York, where he is an associate professor at what is now called Parsons The New School for Design.

Gaskins has lectured and exhibited frequently at museums and universities on the East Coast. Earlier this year he was an artist in residence at the University of Chicago.

He is working on a new book, “Cadillac Chronicles,” inaugurated during a 2006 residency at the Rutgers Institute of Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience. It was funded by an artist and communities grant from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation.

“An entry point for this work is the storied relationship between the Cadillac and African-American men and a period when the Cadillac and American automotive manufacturing was marketed and regarded as ‘Standard of the World,’ ” Gaskins explains on It is the place to see many of his photographs, as well as texts of his recent essays and lectures, including a talk on the Barack Obama presidential inauguration.

Gaskins’ next big project is a video portrait of Detroit, which he will begin filming in January as a visiting faculty member at Wayne State University.

Titled “The Meaning of Hope,” the portrait will feature children’s responses to the question, “What does hope mean to you?” as well as remarks from “people without hope,” Gaskins said.

The work will be produced as a three-channel video projection that will also include footage of adult Detroit residents reading excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech titled “Hope.”

To reach Alice Thorson, art critic, call 816-234-4763 or send e-mail to

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