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Identity and Crisis 

Identity is a recurring yet often challenging theme of conceptual art. At Good Children Gallery, New Haven, Conn.-based, Mississippi native Tameka Norris expresses her identification with the Lower 9th Ward in a video of herself nearly drowning and her roots on the Gulf Coast in collages depicting her image superimposed on destroyed homes, and the net effect can be dramatic if didactic. Stephen Collier's digital collages meld portraiture with mythic symbols that scramble our usual notions of identity in works that reflect the more enigmatic side of a genre that often veers between preachy and opaque. At Barrister's Gallery, Rajko Radovanovic's digital prints embody the didactic side of the equation. In 2008, he created a large text mural that read: "A PRECONDITION TO DOING VIOLENCE TO ANY GROUP OF PEOPLE IS TO MAKE THEM LESS THAN HUMAN." A maxim often used to explain the psychological basis for ethnic cleansing, this looked profound if incongruous on a scruffy 8th Ward street corner — as well as a tad simplistic. His digital self-portraits at Barrister's are all curiously similar, and each bears a slogan like, "This is the only IMMIGRANT you can trust," with terms such as Muslim or homosexual substituted for immigrant in each iteration, illustrating the point that beneath the superficial labels we are all much the same. They seem too simplistic and repetitious, but the recent shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., underscores his message. In recent years, increased threats and actual acts of violence have been directed at people because of their beliefs or identity, as demagogues try to characterize anyone who disagree with them as subhuman aliens out to destroy America. In a media environment saturated with crosshairs and incendiary rhetoric, violence should come as no surprise. Radovanovic's graphics at Barrister's still strike me as too repetitious, but in light of recent events, even simplistic messages about the danger of dehumanizing people can assume new relevance. — D. Eric Bookhardt

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