Race Cube

Race Cube (2003) remodels the classic Rubik’s Cube with a racial twist. Rather than the abstract color separation of the original, the Race Cube poses a more concrete challenge: aligning images of people into categories based on race. Race Cube challenges not only the player’s ability to determine the race to which each face belongs, but also the fundamental assumption that distinct racial lines exist.

Race Cube: Mixed Race Cube: Mixed Race Cube: Mixed Race Cube: Mixed Race Cube: Mixed Installed in West Hall, Troy, NY
Race Cube: Side 6 Mixed Race Cube: Side 5 Mixed Race Cube: Side 4 Mixed Race Cube: Side 3 Mixed Race Cube: Side 2 Mixed Race Cube: Side 1 Mixed
Race Cube: Tiger Woods Race Cube: Cheech Race Cube: Daisy Duke Race Cube: Wonder Woman Installed in Gallery 111 Exhibition Poster

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Related Projects:

Color Studies Exhibition

Color Studies (2004) brings together three works that question the construction of race as it relates to identity, skin color, perception, categories, and hierarchies in U.S. American culture. Gallery 111, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY.

Crayola Monologues

Crayola Monologues (2003) uses the crayon as a human metaphor for exploring color and identity in the United States. These crayons live in a world much like our own, complete with prejudice, class boundaries, social hierarchies and those who fall between the lines.

Self-Portrait

The work displays Ralph Lauren paint swatches arranged in a grid and held between two sheets of transparent acrylic. Self-Portrait (2002) is not only a representation of identity in terms of the artist’s self-image, but also a symbol of how people unknowingly frame their judgments using a limited palette.

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Problem

The Rubik’s Cube is a game in which the goal is to unscramble a chaotic mix of colors into groups of color on each side, bringing order to the cube. Race Cube is a modified Rubik’s Cube with the colored squares replaced by faces of people. Rather than the abstract color separation of the original game, Race Cube manifests an age-old problem: segregating people based on color, or race. In most cases, people with a very similar skin color could be classified as different races. This new puzzle not only confronts the player’s ability to determine the race to which each face belongs, but also the fundamental assumption that clear racial lines exist.

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Inversion

As an installation in a gallery space, the Race Cube is designed to be handled by visitors. I aimed to engage the viewer through interaction, encouraging play to enable a tactile confrontation of their own ideas about the validity of racial categories. Giving the viewer freedom to touch the piece releases them from the traditional constraints of white-walled gallery spaces, which often prohibit touching the artwork. In its first exhibition, I painted the pedestal black and wrote the title of the piece in white. This was an attempt to follow through on the conceptual inversion of the piece itself. Race Cube was designed to invert common conceptions about skin color and racial lines, the simplification or reduction of individual and group identity from an outside viewer, as well as the traditional constraints of the gallery space.

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Solution

Race Cube cannot be solved in the traditional Rubik’s mode of accurately sorting the faces because many of the people represented are biracial, multiracial, or cultural crossovers. However, in order to create the façade of solvability, and because the cube has six sides, I used categories that are often used by the media as racial labels: Asian, Black, Latino, Middle Eastern, Native American, and White. These categories are not intended to be displayed or made explicit in the cube’s presentation, but provided the general starting point for choosing images. I used celebrity images because the media regularly portrays these individuals as icons or representatives of their race. In response to this process, Tiger Woods, a multiracial individual who once called himself “Cablasian,” “Cablinasian” made a media statement saying, “The media has portrayed me as African-American; sometimes, Asian. In fact, I am both.” Race Cube requires that subjects such as Tiger Woods be sorted in a binary paradigm, without any tolerance. Multiracial faces cannot sit simultaneously on multiple sides of the cube. The three dimensional grid structure of the cube represents the low tolerance, low-resolution construction of racial categories.At the same time Race Cube physically manifests the “problem” or puzzle of race, it also provides a solution. This perspective asserts that the cube is always in a constant state of solution. Race Cube maintains its ideal mixed state no matter how many adjustments one makes to the arrangement of the cube, regardless of the player’s attempts to solve the problem. This new solution views the biological notion of being mixed from a positive, rather than the traditionally negative, perspective. Validating diversity and the mixed state of racial representation today provides a platform for deconstructing biological myths about race.

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11 Comments »

  Gravatar Jessica wrote @ October 12th, 2006 at 9:36 am

I want to applaude your ingenious “Race Cube”. As a mixed-race White-Asian individual, I constantly struggle against the rigid, binary racial categories upheld by society. I am also an undergraduate psychology student, and my thesis project focuses on the perception of multiracial faces. Do you have a library of multiracial faces that could be used in a project like this?

Thanks for your time.

  Gravatar Alex wrote @ October 12th, 2006 at 4:34 pm

Tiger woods calls himself “Cablinasian” not “Cablasian”
see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cablinasian

  Gravatar Nathan wrote @ October 12th, 2006 at 6:43 pm

Jessica, I gathered multiracial faces online, so I do have the faces from the cube but that’s about it.

Alex, thanks for the correction. I’m not sure how I got that wrong to begin with.

  Gravatar Justin Williams wrote @ November 27th, 2006 at 2:55 pm

I was looking for something totally different while finishing up a history paper and found your site. It runs directly in line with the paper I am writing I will be sure to include a link your site at the end. I will not reference it as I doné─˘t have you permission but i will encourage others in my history class to visit your site. The subtitle to the class is Race and Memory at the University of Kentucky.

Good work

Justin Williams
Anthropology/History Senior senior
University of Kentucky

  Gravatar Alex wrote @ November 30th, 2006 at 4:16 pm

That would be one Rubik’s cube impossible to solve

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