Dive deep with Melanie Walby and her exhibit “Clear Water”

Artist shares truths of the BIPOC community through graphic design


“Clear Water” examines how racism manifests and more importantly, what to do about it.

The exhibit features scripture, anti-black phrases and uplifting messages for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

Other features of the exhibit include quotes about racial injustice by figures such as Ida B. Wells and statistics revolving around the white narrative portrayed by the media and music and film industries.

The graphic design exhibit was created by Melanie Walby, a 34-year-old Minneapolis based designer who grew up in Eau Claire. She is recognized for her unique creative voice and as “a very talented designer who can take the simplest project and make it beautiful and impactful.”

“I want people to know it’s okay to feel it while you’re here,” Walby said, “This space is giving people permission to actually feel what they need to feel and go into it knowing that so you’re not trying to shove it down while you’re walking through. I cried when I designed it so people are going to cry when they read it.”

While the exhibit is timely, Walby started this work prior to the events following George Floyd’s death. 

“I don’t want people to think this is a response to 2020,” Walby said. “I want them to understand that this is old.”

Yet, her collection is no history lesson because racial inequality is still impacting the lives of young BIPOC — including Walby’s niece — she said.

“I made this for my niece because I don’t want her to grow up making art exhibits about how racist people were to her, I want them to not do that,” Walby said.

Amanda Bulger, Interim Foster Gallery Director, said her position has taught her how art can serve the community and how to use the gallery as a tool to show the community what they’re missing or confront them with what they’re looking past.

“A show like this really makes people start to talk,” Bulger said.

She said she is excited for student artists to see how graphic design can be portrayed in exhibitions since there isn’t much representation for the art form in gallery settings.

UW-Eau Claire students, faculty and staff can view the exhibit for free until the show closes on March 7. Due to COVID-19, the gallery is not open to outside visitors at this time. However, a gallery video tour will be available on the Foster Gallery website.

Walby has asked students, faculty and staff to take and share photos of her exhibit because she feels promoting the work is now up to the people that do get to see it since her family, friends and colleagues aren’t able to.

“Students should feel like this is a show for them,” Bulger said.

Walby said for especially students of color, she wants to share the power of setting boundaries — and that space is where an individual can take time to grow.

“Especially students of color. I want students of color to know that it’s okay to set boundaries around your heart if being in a teaching mode all the time is exhausting you, take a break and go somewhere where you can learn and you can grow,” Walby said.

There will be two events coinciding with the exhibit: The first a virtual artist talk with Walby at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 18 and the second a virtual panel discussion at 7:30 p.m. on March 4. Both events are free and can be pre-registered for here.

More of Walby’s work can be found on her website, or through Pollen Midwest’s bi-weekly newsletter where she works full-time.

Steiler can be reached at [email protected]