RETHINK SHINOLA is a multi-part, Internet-based artwork analyzing and critiquing the branding messages publicized by the company Shinola. Shinola’s name is “a nod” to the former Shinola, a shoe polish company that promoted its products using racist caricatures of African Americans. The “new” Shinola company planted itself in Detroit and leverages and profiteers from the extreme conditions and image of the city as a site of grit and resilience.
The brand creates representations of patriarchal whiteness to enforce perceptions of their “leadership,” and circulates images of African American employees being grateful for this so-called governance. In Shinola’s narratives, the “wild” Detroit environment needs a civilized savior who can first identify with and then tame and civilize the savage. Rethink Shinola is a designed tour of Shinola’s past and present, exposing the rhetoric of Shinola and its President Jacques Panis. My goal was to make Shinola’s implicit messaging about White supremacy and labor hierarchies explicit by opening the curtains and re-costuming the players, sometimes literally.
The experience of RETHINK SHINOLA begins with an animated sequence of Shinola’s brand history and continues with a succession of other texts, such as excerpts from Christopher Columbus’s journals, and images to contextualize Shinola within a racial history of cultural appropriation and the colonization of resources.
Rebekah Modrak is an artist and writer whose practice is at the intersections of art, activism, and creative resistance to consumer culture. Her Internet-based artworks critique brand messaging. RETHINK SHINOLA analyzes and exposes a complex and paternalistic agenda of marketing the White savior myth. Modrak is the lead author of Reframing Photography (Routledge 2011), a book critically exploring issues within the image-based world such as representation and ethics. You can read her own thoughts about culture jamming in The Routledge Companion to Criticality in Art, Architecture and Design, Afterimage, Consumption Markets & Culture, Ms. Magazine, The Conversation, and Infinite Mile.