In search of emotional Kevlar

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Courtesy photo/Susan Sponsler
Artist Susan Sponsler, a Texas Woman’s University graduate, returned to the the hooded sweatshirt for “The Hoodie Project.” Sponsler uses a historical photo printing process, cyanotype, to print nearly life-size portraits of people wearing hoodies onto a blend of linen and cotton.
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TWU alumna channels frustrations over Martin case with hoodie art

For Susan Sponsler, the only way to make sense of the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager shot to death in Sanford, Fla., in 2012, was to make art.

As the Texas Woman’s University alumna worked, her art blossomed into an interactive project that uses the hoodie — a simple hooded sweatshirt — as an avatar for the clash of politics, race and class that boiled in the aftermath of the trial and exoneration of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Martin.

Sponsler’s solo exhibit “The Hoodie Project” runs through Saturday at WoCA Projects in Fort Worth.

“The Hoodie Project” is an installation that includes 20 pieces. Sixteen are “hoodie portraits” printed in cyanotype — one of the earliest photo printing processes — on 100 percent linen and cotton. The portraits are nearly life-size.

The WoCA Projects is a nonprofit, artist-run space that highlights the art of women of color working locally, nationally and internationally.

Gallery hours are from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday or by appointment. The gallery is located at 2902 Race St., Suite 100, in Fort Worth. For more information, call 817-901-7135 or visit www.wocaprojects.com.

A portion of any sales generated from the Hoodie Project will be donated to the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

Sponsler fielded questions about the project, her inspiration and the future of the project.

— Lucinda Breeding

Denton Time: Why do you think the idea of the hoodie resonated with you as a subject to make art around for this exhibit?

Sponsler: The Trayvon Martin murder and the subsequent outcome of the trial of George Zimmerman made me extremely angry and frustrated. The Million Hoodie March in New York City and other cities inspired me to create the Hoodie Project as a visual protest of the acquittal of George Zimmerman and in memory of Trayvon Martin, who was killed because he was a young black man wearing a hoodie.

Here in Denton, people of all races wear the hooded sweatshirt that pundit Geraldo Rivera suggested is an unofficial uniform for felons across the country. Why do you think unsavory meanings were ascribed to this garment — worn by everyone from millionaire socialite Paris Hilton to Trayvon Martin?

I don’t know. The hoodie was not declared a “uniform for felons” until after George Zimmerman decided Trayvon Martin was a thief because he was a black male and wearing a hoodie. The hood can obscure the face, but many young people today wear hoodies, and when they have the hood up, you can still see their face.

From what you’ve sent, it looks as if the Hoodie Project is a growing collection of portraits of people wearing hoodies. What other images does the exhibit include?

One image is the outline of a body lying on the floor. It is printed out so that it is close to life size, and includes graphics around it in black, white and gray that are outlined in red. A white plaster gun that looks like the 9mm handgun used to kill Trayvon lies on the chest portion of the body, near the heart. A yellow evidence marker is also placed on the print.

Other images include an outline of a gun burned into an open box with red wax around it. Black text including some statistics and facts pulled from the Tampa Bay Times survey of “stand your ground” cases is transferred onto the red background.

I was horrified to discover the “stand your ground” law, and alarmed to find that Texas, along with 21 other states, have also adopted a “stand your ground” law.

Two other images are shaped like stop signs. The fronts of the cradled wood panels are painted red and drip with textured black wax on the sides. One has a graphic with a hand pointing a gun out at the viewer and the other says in black text: “Stop Stand Your Ground.”

Do you think this work is confrontational?

I don’t think that it is confrontational, although I do understand that it is a very controversial topic. I hope that my artwork encourages people to stand up against racism and stereotyping, to become aware of the many “stand your ground” law victims and to honor all victims of hate crimes.


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