The first time Karlyn Eckman (who uses any pronouns) was featured in Minnesota Women’s Press, in 2007, they were working on community development in Somali refugee camps, and heading up the U.N.’s Women, Irrigation and Nutrition project focusing on Cambodia, Nepal and Zambia. Most recently, as an artist and adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota, they were commenting on their painting in response to the police murder of George Floyd.
“The subject was the old Lowry Avenue bridge in Northeast Minneapolis, which divided white and non-white neighborhoods as a result of red-lining in Minneapolis. I grew up in a white, red-lined neighborhood and recall several incidents of racism that needed airing out,” Eckman says.
Eckman, whose work typically focuses on water quality and habitat protection, is choosing to focus artwork on racism and injustice — displaying how intertwined racial and climate justice are.
Though Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota, and the United States more broadly have a long way to go to achieve racial justice, Eckman believes some progress has been made.
“Certainly, Northeast Minneapolis has become much more diverse than it was fifty years ago. However, parts of the neighborhood remain predominantly white, and racism and prejudice still exist,” they say.
“My intentions [are] to think deeply about racism and injustice in my own lived experience. I continue to develop ideas,” Eckman adds. “One idea is a biographical sketch [painting and writing] of Dr. Melvin Bates, the first Black teacher at Edison High School. I am not a writer or portrait artist, but I need to push beyond my comfort level, because some things just need to be expressed.”
Eckman says that folks can take action by calling out prejudice when it comes up in conversation, as it has in their own family. “Let curiosity and an open mind guide your path,” they say. “History is there for us to discover. I am fascinated by the past and the lessons that we can learn from it.
For more information about Karlyn Eckman, visit eckmanart.com.