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Response to A Collective Mindset

Responding to racism with movement & objects
yvonne shortt and net

I was in a discussion  with a group of women artists when I was told that I should rethink the use of my materials, consisting of rope and branches. According to one artist, the materials were “too closely associated” with a horrible time in American history and “should be carefully reconsidered.” This woman also used the word lynching several times.


In any hostile situation the body must adapt.

My work had nothing to do with this subject matter, however this was immaterial except to say she never bothered to see what my work was about before speaking about my work.  No one in the group called her out on her racism. I was all alone in a collective mindset that did not resemble me at all.


I took the rage, anger, and energy from this meeting and used it to more fully grow myself. What transpired with the other woman is now immaterial to this project.


Racism is a collective action rooted in a collective mindset.


I created nets alone and with others for reflection and to stimulate discussion. The nets were made from 1/2 inch thick cotton rope. They were created with people from parks in NYC, A.I.R. Gallery, The Ely Center for Contemporary Art, and the Museum for Contemporary Artists. While I knotted the nets with others, we talked. We talked about race, racism, privilege, compassion, and forgiveness. I also made nets by myself to simply contemplate.

yvonne shortt and net

These nets were created in rural, urban, and suburban areas.

Choreography and Dance

I made several kinds of videos. I worked with dancers, sometimes as an audience and sometimes as active participants in both the creation and execution of the choreographed routines. We explored the rope’s purpose and the feelings it elicited.


Ultimately, I realized that the rope was my armor, helping me push against racism and explore my feelings.

In any hostile situation the body must adapt.

Left Dancer: Rosie DeAngelo
Right Dancers: J Chieh Hsiung and Rosie DeAngelo


yvonne shortt terracotta and rope sculpture

The head, sculpted from clay harvested from Sprout Creek and additional terracotta, uses a face I have sculpted several times of a young African American girl. She was first sculpted from my imagination four years ago. The charcoal is made from burnt rope and the ashes of wood from my fireplace. The face is a face I keep coming back to in my practice.


In any hostile situation the body must adapt.


Sometimes the body may adapt in a way that others see, but whether or not that change is perceived, the change happens internally. The charcoal reveals what’s inside to the onlooker.  It makes the private public.


In any hostile situation the mind must adapt. 


If the mind doesn’t adapt, the anger and rage can eat one alive. I created a helmet from terracotta clay.  It is also smudged with the same burnt charcoal from the flames of the rope I hit on the asphalt, as well as dirt collected from the places I traveled with my net. The headdress is a helmet that keeps me safe while I explore these feelings. It protects a vital part of my body from the onlooker while at the same time forcing me to see what’s in front of me because, by its nature, it blocks the peripheral.


In this video I capture the treatment used on the helmet, which entails taking the charcoal and applying it to the piece by hand. 


yvonne shortt helmet

The Explorer

Charcoal. Terracotta.


yvonne shortt rope sculpture


Rope. Dirt.


yvonne shortt terracotta and rope sculpture

The Warrior

Charcoal. Terracotta. Rope.


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