— by Ashley Gunter
Image is a detail of an installation by artist Ashley Gunter that shows synthetic braided Black hair with hair bobbles wrapped around a wooden frame. The title of the 2019 piece is Holding Space.

Above image: Ashley Gunter, Holding Space, 2019, Kanekalon and wood. Courtesy of the artist.

Ashley Gunter MFA '21 is a visual artist born and raised in Washington, DC. She has exhibited her work in New York City, the Washington metropolitan area and Europe. Her collective work explores self-acceptance and intersectionality.

Share your qualifying review question and plans you have for your final year at Moore in thesis writing and thesis exhibition/project.

My qualifying review question is the following: How do affinity, intimacy, and a shared purpose foster a sense of belonging in resistance to systemic and interconnected oppression? This question attempts to bridge a gap between my teaching and artistic practice by using art to explore racial microaggressions experiences as a student and educator. I will interrogate this question through autobiographical work that highlights my relationship with institutional structures. Focusing on my relationships with institutions is simply an entry point to reflect on and imagine the antithesis. I'm ultimately studying the common themes, rituals and guiding beliefs of small inclusive spaces and what makes them sustainable. 

How do you plan to use your MFA in Progress exhibition as an opportunity to work toward those goals of the final work, or to explore other concerns? 

The working title of the MFA in Progress exhibition is "Is it Safe Here?" The show will examine the role of care, generosity of spirit and communication, specifically in response to institutional racism. During the summer, I spent a considerable amount of time inquiring how my former school, The Potomac School, planned to respond to media attention around the anonymous @BlackatPotomac Instagram page. Following a Washington Post article highlighting Potomac's "manifestations of racism," the head of the school, John Kowalik, said the institution decided to form committees and host listening sessions in response to the media coverage this summer. The work in the MFA in Progress show highlights some of my email exchanges with staff members and administrators at the school that I publicly shared on my social media. I will physically translate my digital engagement and correspondence with a K-12 institution. By creating large-scale prints of the exchanges, I will physically archive the emails and question what's tangible and accessible when discussing institutional change, digital and social media, and large-scale cultural shifts. 

What are some of the ethical considerations, audience engagements or social impact goals that your work has or will be confronting?

One of the themes I'm interested in is legibility and access. Much of the social engagement and performance occurred on Instagram. I'm curious how the prints can evolve and dissolve if the images go back and forth between physical and social media. I'm also interested in how the interaction of text and imagery shifts the tone of the conversation.