Explaining GHETTO to students

Retail-style art installation hopes to challenge our perceptions of the term “ghetto”

The GHETTO art installation is set up in the Fireside Lounge at The Common Ground, hoping to creatively push the boundaries of what we know as “ghetto”.
The GHETTO art installation is set up in the Fireside Lounge at The Common Ground, hoping to creatively push the boundaries of what we know as “ghetto”.

Over the next three weeks, the fireside lounge in the Common Ground will be taken over by what appears to be a retail store. But the mannequins wearing ornate dresses, bottles of perfume and handbags are actually part of an art installation. 

The exhibit, called GHETTO: A Retail Art Installation, opened on Feb. 23 with a discussion panel beforehand. The panel was hosted by AMS Social Issues Commissioner Alex Chung and exhibit artists, Rodney Veal and Brian DaLuca, from Dayton, Ohio. The exhibit will be open for three weeks.

GHETTO is intended to force viewers to consider what the word “ghetto” actually means and inspire discussion about the installation.

The exhibit was first opened by DaLuca and Veal at the University of Dayton, where DaLuca works. According to the panelists, the social landscape at the University of Dayton is comparable to Queen’s.

The student housing area surrounding Dayton is often called the student ghetto, according to the artists, much like the housing area surrounding Queen’s. The panel also noted that only five per cent of the Dayton student population are visible minorities. 

Chung said there are definite similarities between the social climates at Dayton and Queen’s.

“[Queen’s minority population is] not five per cent, but it’s pretty low. And so language carries a lot of significance for our environment and the climate it creates as well,” Chung said in an interview. “And I think we’ve failed to recognize that a lot of the time.”

The exhibit is designed to mimic a store. All items are designed and displayed as if they were on sale and visitors are invited to touch, listen to and engage with the art.

A catalogue lies in one corner for visitors to flip through. Music blares loudly, and the lights and colours create an immersive experience. 

As visitors interact with the exhibit, they learn more about the term “ghetto” by reading various statistics about ghettoized communities.

It’s intended to spark an emotional response from the viewer and start a conversation about the word.

A black and white dress sits in the middle of the room, with red lace trailing down the side and the star of David resting on the bodice.

This piece is titled Detained. The price of the dress is labelled as $11,000, with reference to the 11 million lives lost during the Holocaust. 

Veal said the piece epitomizes the exhibit.

“It’s like people see it and they rush to it because it has this simplicity, but it speaks to something really deeply disturbing at the same time.”

It’s clearly a controversial piece. But Veal and DaLuca say it’s intentional — they want to spark a reaction from visitors.

 “I’d ask people to think about it who are challenged by it,” DaLuca said. “Why respond? Why react in that way? […] We’ve got a card, holler at me. Let’s have a conversation about it.”

An emphasis on starting conversations about the term “ghetto” carries on throughout the exhibit. 

A notebook sits by the entrance prompting visitors to sign their name and leave a comment about the installation.

The artists plan to adapt and grow the exhibit as they receive feedback from the places they visit to hold the exhibit. 

“A student here talked about the Aboriginal voice in this … if that means somebody here feels that another element should be created before we [continue to another location], we’re going to add a new dress. We’ll add a purse. We’ll add something,” DaLuca said.

The Academy, a piece intended to represent lower-quality clothing brands, includes t-shirts that represent the student housing area in Dayton and the one here at Queen’s. The collection will expand as GHETTO travels to new places.

Veal and DaLuca aren’t sure where GHETTO will land next, but DaLuca said they plan to continue the discussion. 

“If somebody says … ‘Hey, bring it to us. We need it. We want it. We’re curious,’ we’d say absolutely.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.