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    06/29/2020 02:00 PM After White House Fence Comes Down, Its Activist Art and Posters Move Nearby

    Protest signage was relocated from the fence surrounding the White House to nearby scaffolding (all photos by Murat Cem Mengüç)

    WASHINGTON, DC — A controversial metal fence, which was erected around the White House at the beginning of the month, has since been taken apart. The fence was built on June 1 to cordon off Lafayette Square, presumably to allow Donald Trump a safe passage to stage a photo opportunity in front of the St. John’s Episcopal Church amid citywide anti-racism protests.

    Afterward, Black Lives Matter protestors transformed the fence into a messaging board and a spontaneous art show. When the activists discovered that certain sections of the fence had been removed and that it would soon be dismantled, they took what they could and reinstalled it across the street. Believing the memorabilia could be trashed by the contractors, they reinstated it on scaffolding on the other side of Lafayette Square.

    Workers remove a fence around the White House, which had previously been decorated with protest signs.
    A portrait of Breonna Taylor, who was murdered by Louisville Metro Police Department officers, contrasts “Trump/Pence Must Go!” flyers
    Local artists have posted artworks including collage, drawings, and pop-art.

    When I visited the public artwork, an aspiring graffiti artist and activist named Noah explained to me that he was among those who helped and two of his own signs were hanging among them. He is one of many contributors to the still-growing display, as people continue to bring new signage and posters and hand it at the site. Trees, poles, and electric boxes, as well as the plywood used for boarding up storefronts on 16th Street, are being utilized to post words and graphics in support of the Black Lives Matter.

    The body of Chynal Lindsey, a 26-year-old Black transgender woman, was discovered in a Dallas lake.
    A watercolor reads: “First anger, then action, ’til we reach satisfaction.”
    Community members visit the wall

    Last week, a group of curators from the Smithsonian Institute visited the site and agreed to preserve at least some of the memorabilia at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Activists believe the museum acquired a significant portion of what was removed from the fence. Meanwhile, many more pieces are stored away by the activists who currently ran a free food stand across the street, next to the St. John’s Episcopal Church. Eric and Ryan, the two activists who were in charge of the stand at the time, said they did everything they could to salvage the artwork and the signage, which is now on display as a makeshift public art exhibtion.

    A bundle of flowers was taped to the protest wall
    A “defund police” collage
    Anti-cop graffiti decorates the sidewalk and writing on the fence spells out “police-free schools” in colorful material

    06/29/2020 01:00 PM Queer Art Workers Reflect: Julieta Salgado Is Dancing and Celebrating as Much as She’s Protesting

    Artist Julieta Salgado (all images courtesy Julieta Salgado)

    The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

    Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them.

    * * *

    What’s your name?

    Julieta Salgado

    Where are you based currently? 

    On occupied Lenape and Canarsie lands aka Brooklyn, NY.

    Describe who you are and what you do.

    I am a queer femme artist and dissident, the proud daughter of two Ecuadorian immigrants who came to Bushwick in the mid-eighties. Difficult life circumstances moved me between New York and Ecuador for most of my youth. My photography and politics are closely intertwined. The reason I even began to shoot film was because an uncle gave me a camera during the Forajidos uprisings in Ecuador in 2005. The first images I ever shot were of protests and I haven’t stopped since.

    For a living, I work as a youth counselor for unhoused LGBTQ youth and as a Spanish interpreter/translator for a legal organization dedicated to Trans rights. While I’m passionate about the populations I serve, I hope to leave the non-profit industrial complex someday and share these skills, including those in film photography, more directly and sustainably with all who want them.

    Julieta Salgado, “Untitled (Trans Day of Action)” (2019) (protesters’ faces have been obscured at the request of the artist)

    Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

    I’m proud of teaching myself how to develop black and white film at home. When I graduated from Brooklyn College in 2015, I was immediately so depressed about losing darkroom access. Film photography is already so expensive, I saw no viable way of getting a studio membership. I was sad but also indignant that only people within formal institutions can access film photography. (I’m allergic to gatekeeping.) So I combined what knowledge I had, did some Youtube research, bought some basic materials on a credit card, and I figured out how to continue my photo practice at home.

    I’ve been doing this for the last 4 years and it’s just the best thing ever! I can’t make film prints at home (yet), so I really miss that aspect of a formal darkroom, but I want to keep expanding my knowledge so I can share it with others. My big dream is to have a darkroom collective that is sliding scale, the way the old ABC No Rio used to be — accessible film photography for The People.

    Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

    I love Riis Beach so much; it’s one of my favorite places to be. I’m also enjoying Zoom queer dance parties way more than I expected, and plan to dance and celebrate as much as I protest this month!

    Julieta Salgado, “Untitled (Indigenous Peoples’ Day)” (2019) (protesters’ faces have been obscured at the request of the artist)

    What’s been top of mind for you lately?

    The abolition of all police, immigration, military, and prison systems. Reparations for Black folks and Indigenous sovereignty up and down the hemisphere. Working with a small group of non-black, Latinx-identified folks around our internalized anti-Blackness, holding space for each other as we unlearn/relearn. Dreaming of beautiful possibilities of liberation for the places I call home, no bosses, no masters, no landlords, no borders. I also can’t stop fantasizing about forming a wheat pasting night crew :)

    Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

    I keep a small circle of friends and chosen family that I consider my immediate community and support system. I’ve been calling myself a “feral” leftist for a few years now, I had some crappy experiences in organizing that forced me to work on my health and values.
    I still don’t have an affiliation to any group, but follow and uplift the work of many: Decolonize This Place, Why Accountability, Take Back The Bronx, G.L.I.T.S., For The Gworls, The Okra Project, Movement For Black Lives, BAJI, Equality 4 Flatbush, Swipe It Forward, Within Our Lifetime, Outlive Them NYC, Border Kindness, Mayday Space, NYC Shut It Down, Free CUNY, No New Jails NYC, Club A NYC, all mutual aid and bail-out groups that have formed past and present, almost too many amazing folks to name! And a special shout out to Casa de Las Muñecas in Ecuador and No Tengo Miedo in Peru.

    How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

    Supporting street actions every chance I get while being honest about my capacity and health. Trying to allocate my resources to individuals or to bigger projects that serve many people whenever possible. Pride has always been revolutionary to me, so this year feels extra special.

    Julieta Salgado, “Untitled (Indigenous Peoples’ Day)” (2019) (protesters’ faces have been obscured at the request of the artist)

    Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

    Yes, give us unlimited access to resources and spaces to showcase our work. Center the leadership and work of Black and Indigenous artists and curators.

    In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

    I hope we carry these pandemic lessons of solidarity, mutual aid, (increased, though could be better) accessibility, and redistribution of resources. I hope we continue to expand on this response to the crisis until it flourishes into abundance and sustainability! I’ve watched many people around me become radicalized by this intensely terrible and yet amazing moment in our lifetime, and that fills me with hope.

    What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

    Smooch all my friends.

    Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

    06/29/2020 11:00 AM Meet the NYC Art Community: Dyeemah Simmons Wants to Stretch the Idea of What Museums Can Do

    Arts educator Dyeemah Simmons (all images courtesy Dyeemah Simmons; photo by Joaquim Cuscó Prats)

    Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about education. How will we teach current and future generations about the nuances of this moment, and specifically, what role will art play in that important work? For this sixth edition of Meet the NYC Art Community, I had a chance to chat with Dyeemah Simmons — a committed arts educator, photographer, and born and raised Harlemite who serves as Director of Access and Community Programs at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

    In her official role, Simmons is responsible for creating policies, programs, and outreach initiatives to make the Whitney a welcoming, accessible, and inclusive environment for disabled and non-disabled visitors. She joined the museum’s education department as the Assistant to Teen Programs in 2015 and became the Coordinator of Teen Programs in 2016. Prior to her work at the Whitney, she received a year-long art teaching fellowship at Anatolia College in Thessaloniki, Greece where she worked with grades K through 12. She has also interned at the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Education department and worked as a student docent at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio. She holds an MA in Art Education from CUNY City College and a BA in Studio Art and English from Oberlin College.

    We chatted about her long-held love of photography, the importance of maintaining and strengthening relationships with marginalized communities, and the preciousness of time.

    * * *

    A reading of Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals with Carolyn Lazard at the Whitney Museum, October 2019 (photo by Filip Wolak)

    Where do you consider home?

    Harlem is home. I’ve called a few other places home for short amounts of time, but Harlem is always where I come back to. It’s where I was born and raised, and luckily still live today.

    What brought you to New York/what has made you stay?

    I never thought I’d live in New York as an adult — I dreamed of moving somewhere warmer like California or somewhere abroad. After college in Ohio and a year teaching abroad in Greece, I made my way back here for work opportunities in the arts, and to be close to my family. I didn’t always have an appreciation of Harlem, but I’ve come to cherish my family’s long history of living and owning businesses here. Considering the increasing gentrification of Harlem and other Black neighborhoods, it feels like a miracle that my family hasn’t been pushed out.

    Tell me about your first memory of art.

    It might be strange, but my first memory of being intensely obsessed with art was discovering Flickr. I didn’t really go to museums as a young person, but the Internet was always available for exploration. I would spend hours looking at photographs on Flickr, curating mini exhibitions of my favorites in digital albums. Flickr inspired me to join my high school’s photography club and learn about creating photos in the dark room. My love of photography has only grown since those days.

    Teens at the Whitney Museum create t-shirts inspired by Cauleen Smith’s protest banner in 2017 Biennial (photo by Filip Wolak)

    How would you describe your practice?

    I am most interested in collaborating with artists to develop spaces for marginalized communities to create, commune, and gain access to critical resources. I have worked at the Whitney Museum for almost five years doing this work — first in Teen Programs, and now as the Director of Access and Community Programs. The Museum’s connection to a wide array of artists has allowed me and my colleagues to design meaningful programs and experiences for our various audiences.

    Some examples include a private sound experience for visitors who are blind or low-vision, with artist Kevin Beasley manipulating the sounds from the cotton gin motor in his exhibition A view of a landscape; a week of art-making and storytelling with Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay artist Jorge González for participants from Youth Insights (YI) Introductions; a program specifically for teens who identify as English Language Learners (ELLs); a protest t-shirt making workshop with 2017 Biennial artist Cauleen Smith, inspired by her powerful banners that hung in the Museum’s lobby; and an intimate reading of Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, led by artist Carolyn Lazard near their 2019 Biennial piece. I am very interested in how these programs and interactions stretch the idea of what museums can do, and who they are for.

    What are you working on currently?

    Like many other museum workers, I am in the continuous process of reimagining our programs for this new COVID-19 world. One of the main parts of my job at the Whitney is sustaining relationships with our amazing community partners like the Door, the LGBT Community Center, and Hudson Guild. My team and I have tried to be responsive to their needs and develop virtual opportunities for creation and discussion about art.

    For the past three years, the Whitney has invited an artist/collective to perform on the occasion of the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This year, we will be screening Rodney Evans’ film Vision Portraits and hosting a discussion with him, Kayla Hamilton, and Judy Heumann about filmic representations of disabled folks. I am really excited for that discussion!

    I am also trying to get back into my own photographic practice. My love of museum work started with my love for creating my own art.

    From Jerron Herman: Many Ways to Raise a Fist, ADA Anniversary Performance at the Whitney Museum, July 2019 (photo by Filip Wolak)

    Creatively speaking, what keeps you up at night and what makes you get out of bed in the morning?

    I am always reevaluating how I can best do my work, especially in this moment where my community and communities I hold dear are suffering exponentially. Time is precious and I want to make sure I’m using mine in ways that feel purposeful. The gravity of this task can be daunting, but I wake up everyday grateful and excited that I have another chance to try.

    What are you reading currently?

    In addition to the handful of articles and social media posts I engage with daily, I have been reading Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman with a virtual book club. Schulman turns a critical lens on the culture of blame and cruelty we all live within, making readers confront the ways their own trauma or supremacy mindset prohibits them from taking accountability for their actions. It’s a complicated, intense read — I’m glad I’m working through it with a thoughtful group of peers.

    I also just finished Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, which had been on my “To Read” list for a very long time. It was beautiful and devastating.

    What is your favorite way of experiencing art?

    There are times when I like to experience art with friends – going to a performance, or a big museum with lots of people. But when I’m really looking forward to experiencing a specific work, I like to be alone. I remember the first time I saw Arthur Jafa’s video Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. I was in the space alone, free to cry and be fully immersed in the visual and sonic experience.

    Artist Kevin Beasley performs for a group of blind and low vision visitors at the Whitney Museum, January 2019 (photo by Filip Wolak)

    Favorite exhibition you’ve seen in the last year?

    I’ve been lucky to see a lot of incredible art this past year, it’s hard to choose a favorite!

    I was blown away by the beautiful portraits in Jordan Casteel’s solo exhibition at the Denver Art Museum last August. Right before the pandemic, I got the chance to see Solo Con La Cabeza No Se Puede Recordar, an exhibition that my former colleague and friend Elena Ketelsen González organized as a part of her gallery project La Salita. During this time of social distancing, I’m really missing physical spaces like the one Elena has created for artists and communities to come together.

    In the creative circles you’re part of, what questions do you want to see more people asking?

    I think many people are asking this question, but how can we continue doing the work while being so intensely exhausted? What are the strategies for consistently practicing radical self-care while also caring for our communities?

    06/28/2020 04:10 AM Queer Art Workers Reflect: Sarah Jane Moon Is Celebrating Pride by Painting Her Queer Heroes

    Artist Sarah Jane Moon with her work (all images courtesy Sarah Jane Moon)

    The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

    Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them.

    * * *

    What’s your name?

    Sarah Jane Moon

    Where are you based currently? 


    Describe who you are and what you do.

    I’m a painter who paints people, mostly from the LGBTQI+ community.

    Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

    A recent highlight has been having my portrait of prominent queer photographer Lola Flash being exhibited (virtually) in the BP Portrait Award show at the National Portrait Gallery London. I’m thrilled to be able to shine a spotlight on Lola and her work and to have this painting of a proud Black queer artist in this internationally renowned exhibition.

    Sarah Jane Moon, “Lola Flash” (2020), oil on canvas, 168 x 127 cm

    Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

    I love to celebrate friends in the queer arts community and go to their performances, exhibitions, film screenings, and book launches, and to have these events be a reason for people to gather. My solo exhibition Queer Portraits took place last year and I really enjoyed seeing people interact with the work, and that the exhibition became an occasion for people to come together and celebrate queer creatives, artists, doctors, writers, gardeners, performers, and others in our community.

    What’s been top of mind for you lately?

    The Black Lives Matter movement has definitely been on my mind of late and I’m conscious that I really want to be a better advocate for our community and share whatever platform I might have with more people. I want to learn more about the ways in which I experience privilege as a white artist, how I have benefitted from inherently racist systems, how I am complicit. I come from New Zealand and so have always been very conscious of the ways in which the British Empire rode roughshod across the globe. I’ve always keenly felt the legacy of land taken, resources pillaged, lives lost, and communities and cultures decimated in the wake of colonialism. I hope to find constructive ways to address this in my work and to use the genre of portraiture to begin to redress this balance and amplify important voices.

    Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

    I have an extensive network of queer creatives and queers in the corporate world in London and it’s noticeable how much we are all checking in with each other. Many of us live far from family by choice or circumstance and there has been a great upswell of support for those of us who are on our own or need extra support. I’ve felt very connected to people during this time.

    Sarah Jane Moon, “Leo & Roy” (2019), oil on canvas, 160 x 120 cm

    How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

    By painting! Not being able to gather and celebrate is certainly tough but my work as a queer portrait painter goes on and is really at its heart, a celebration of queer drive and success in its many varied forms. I am embarking on a new series of large queer portraits of campaigners in our community and am currently painting activists Peter Tatchell and Jonathan Blake.

    Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

    Yes, absolutely. Queer art is important as is visibility and our communities face unique challenges. Institutions could prioritize queer art — in many instances it still remains niche and that is a problem. I would also love to see more mentoring programs develop so that young queer artists can have positive role models in their lives and we can make connections across generations.

    In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

    Within the LGBTQI+ community there are many points of fissure and I just really hope we can all pull together to enact greater change. The current ‘debate’ over trans folk has really saddened me. Trans people are members of our community who are at the most risk and need not only our wholehearted support and solidarity but to be celebrated for who they are. We need to look to them for the things they can teach us and most importantly, we need to listen to their lived experiences.

    Sarah Jane Moon, “Dr Ronx” (2019), oil on canvas, 130 x 100 cm

    What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

    I can’t wait to see friends here in London and would also love to head home to New Zealand to see family when it’s safe to do so.

    Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

    06/27/2020 04:10 AM Queer Art Workers Reflect: David Ninh Is Fighting for Equity in the Film Industry

    Producer and publicist David Ninh at the 2019 Academy Awards for Kino Lorber’s feature documentary nomination for Of Fathers & Sons (all images courtesy David Ninh)

    The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

    Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them.

    * * *

    What’s your name?

    David Ninh

    Where are you based currently? 

    New York, NY

    Describe who you are and what you do.

    I’m a queer, Vietnamese New Yorker originally from Texas. I work in the film industry and am the Director of Press & Publicity at New York-based art house distributor Kino Lorber. Our company releases indies, documentaries, classics, and international films in theaters across the country, plus on home video and streaming. I’m deeply passionate about promoting cinema and strategizing to build buzz around our films. I also work as a producer on queer documentaries and help run a production company called Still Point Pictures. They released a major trans youth rights doc directed by Eric Juhola called Growing Up Coy that I was heavily involved with and I am working with them on a new doc that dives into the unsolved case of Rita Hester, a [Black trans] woman whose murder 20 years ago led to the creation of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Amplifying queer stories is very important to me.

    David Ninh and Nick Kemp (Kino Lorber Director of Marketing) with home videos at the inaugural Radical Film Fair in Brooklyn hosted by The Eyeslicer & Kickstarter

    Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

    We are dealing with a reckoning across the board (especially in the arts) with white supremacy and the fight for justice of the Black Lives Matter movement, so one of the things I am passionately involved with at Kino Lorber is helping shape a new program where we will be advising and mentoring students on the curation and release of shorts by young filmmakers and showcasing them on our platforms. I am working on it with other team members, including my fellow queer colleague Nick Kemp, our Director of Marketing. We want to focus on untapped and diverse storytelling — all things already in our company’s DNA — but also figure out how we can help break down barriers to working in the film industry to help make it more inclusive. I also just helped orchestrate a New York Times story that hit newsstands this week on our re-release of important early queer German films called Pioneers of Queer Cinema. It made me happy to give these works attention.

    Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

    It’s really tough right now because my favorite ways to celebrate queerness revolve around getting together and connecting with friends and being social, which is still limited. I love going out to bars and being present with the community, going to queer film festivals, etc. So right now I’m trying to find ways to celebrate my queerness during the pandemic by diving into classic movies every night, fighting for causes behind-the-scenes, being on the streets protesting, and continually educating myself about what’s going on around the world by focusing on where my blind spots are with queer rights in other countries.

    David Ninh participating in a panel on Asian visibility in Cinema with filmmaker Andrew Ahn, Criterion Collection’s Andrew Chan, and others at the New York Film Festival

    What’s been top of mind for you lately?

    Examining anti-Blackness in the conservative immigrant community and unpacking generational trauma. As a second generation American-born citizen from an immigrant family, I am working on combating racism in my community and educating myself about the bias of Vietnamese-American news sources, which are very right-wing and rife with sensationalistic and fake news. There are so many layers to why immigrants can end up aligning with a system based on white supremacy — writer Terry Nguyen did a great job covering this recently in VOX.

    I’ve been very inspired by the engagement happening in the Viet Solidarity & Action Network — which only popped up on Facebook recently — and connecting with other progressive Vietnamese like myself who are all dealing with some tough conversations in our households and communities. Activist and editor Cookie Duong just started a news aggregator aimed at civic engagement and empowerment called The Interpreter that publishes translated English-language news to Vietnamese to combat fake news. I am starting to see politically active Viets infiltrating and seeding it out to Viet conservative Facebook groups where so much of this misinformation thrives. I’m trying to figure out how to contribute with the skills I have and engage more deeply on that front — I was their first Patreon supporter!

    Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

    I draw support and energy from a lot of queers in the Asian community doing similar work in the film industry — particularly film editor Andrew Chan who does incredible work for The Criterion Collection, and indie filmmakers Andrew Ahn, Yen Tan, PJ Raval, producer Derek Nguyen, POV/America ReFramed producer Robert Y. Chang. They all inspire me with their work, but our friendships and eye-opening private chatter also help keep me sane, focused, and supported as a queer Asian in the indie film space. Right before the pandemic, I joined the National Asian Artists Project community chorus founded by Broadway legend Baayork Lee. We were in rehearsals and set to perform an all Rodgers & Hammerstein revue, but the pandemic forced us to cancel. It really energized me to be a part of that because I’m NOT a great singer but I wanted to push myself to try to participate with their super-talented members.

    Last year, I also got to work with Ceyenne Doroshow, activist and founder of trans rights organization G.L.I.T.S., who participated in our Q&A for the Kino Lorber re-release of the landmark 1968 drag documentary The Queen. I am deeply inspired by the vital work she is doing right now to fundraise and provide housing to Black trans people. My friends who run the top queer film festivals (most of which I have served on film festival juries for or have had films play in) also just created the NAQFA: the North American Queer Festival Alliance which everyone needs to pay attention to.

    Connecting with other Vietnamese New Yorkers from theater & film at mixer for CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment); from left: Actor/model Yen Nguyen, actor Andy Do, David Ninh, The Sống Collective founders Carolina Do & David Huynh, director/producer Derek Nguyen, actor Katie Do, Director Leon Le (Song Lang)

    How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

    I plan to attend the Reclaim Pride Queer Liberation March in support of Black Lives and Against Police Brutality on June 28. I’m hoping that along with the marching, there will also be some outdoor dancing and eating involved. All with safe social distancing, of course. Join me!

    Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

    While we’ve come a long way as an industry, queer filmmakers, just like artists from any other marginalized group, don’t get the same access to opportunities as their straight, cisgender peers. Until the gatekeepers who decide which art gets seen better reflect society as a whole, this will continue to be a problem at every level — from production to film festival selection to distribution. I also think access to financing for queer art has a long way to go.

    In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

    I really hope with this movement, immigrant communities can become more progressive and also have solidarity with Black people and their fight for equal rights. Black Lives Matter!

    What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

    Get a haircut, go to the dentist, eat at some of my favorite restaurants, have a drink at a gay bar, go to parties and dance my ass off, and fly home to Houston and eat my mom’s Vietnamese food!

    Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

    06/27/2020 04:08 AM Required Reading

    A new product by Danielle Baskin is designed to help those who want to open their smartphones without a code. Her new company, called Maskalike, prints your face on a face mask. It’s a cute idea, and look great, but let’s not forget the usefulness of anonymity during the Black Lives Matter protests. More images and info over at Colossal (via Colossal)

    We know very well that art museums are some of the strongest cultural bastions of western colonization. Through very deliberate racist and sexist practices of acquisition, deaccession, exhibition, and art-historical analysis, museums have decisively produced the very state of exclusion that publicly engaged art historians and curators (including myself) are currently working hard to dismantle. What we do not speak honestly enough about are the very distinct ways in which racism and sexism are utilized to traumatize us and oftentimes undermine our work—the very work that our respective institutions claim they want—and often recruit us to do.

    Recently, I participated in a Zoom call with tens of Black curators from around the world, with representatives from small institutions to some of the largest and most popular museums, as well as independent curators. It was absolutely amazing to see so many of my colleagues at one time! Here were people that I’ve admired for years, as well as tons of new acquaintances, all speaking so passionately about how we could work more efficiently to support each other and Black artists. My heart sank, however, after about an hour of discussing concerns about our institutions’ tone-deaf responses to this moment and our overall experiences in museums. It seemed like time stood still when I realized that no matter where in the world we work, what positions we hold in our institutions, or how diligently and effectively we do our jobs, many of us are experiencing similar traumas and complete mental exhaustion from navigating and contorting ourselves around abhorrent manifestations of white supremacy in museums and the art world at-large. Ironically, I had to leave the call early, as my institution began demanding mental and emotional acrobatics via emails pinging in the background

    Importantly, in the 1960s, black male artists — largely operating under a new Black consciousness — tackled Aunt Jemima, largely by incorporating her image into a Black Power, Black nationalist discourse. Joe Overstreet’s rendering challenged the oppressive economic and social structure of America; Jeff Donaldson confronted police brutality and white supremacy in his piece. Murry DePillars brought the aesthetics of Black liberation into the discussion of Aunt Jemima, which by the late-1960s, ‘had been widely adopted as a symbol of pride and resistance to oppression by many African Americans who had not participated directly in political activities.’ While their work, coupled with protests and boycotts by black activists, ‘led Quaker Oats to drop the bandanna in 1968 and give Aunt Jemima a headband, in addition to slimming her down and making her look somewhat younger,’ her image remained immune to the realities of black women’s lives. This transition from bandanna to headband can also be read as a symbolic ode to the integration of black women into the workforce (as secretaries, typists, or receptionists). By focusing on the black female body but also hairstyle and dress, which ‘during the 1960s had become signifiers of pride and identity,’ black feminist art in the 1970s further reconfigured Aunt Jemima’s image, not singularly in terms of her role in a black nationalist discourse, but in terms of who she really is — a black woman. Working under the tenets of a Black Feminist movement, these artists challenged the patriarchy and sexism embedded in American society, but also within Black Nationalist organizations.

    New York native Faith Ringgold was one of the first artists to, as Melody Graulich and Mara Witzling describe, ‘embed narratives in her quilts…. All the narrators of Ringgold’s quilts are African-American women who speak with authority in their own voices.’ In Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima (1983), Ringgold took control of the Southern mammy stereotype by creating an alternative narrative for Aunt Jemima’s life, linking it to histories of African American migration, marriage, employment, and loss. Her quilt story ultimately turned a stereotype into a personal narrative. In a recent interview, when asked to reflect upon her iconic story quilt, Ringgold maintained that Aunt Jemima is our feminist issue:

    To condemn her for being black, fat, having a big nose, that’s nothing that’s not something to condemn a person for. I’m going to re-write her life and I’m going to give her a career and a family, and talk about the important things in her life not the way that she looks.

    Fleetwood’s investigation responds to two central questions: How has the colossal reach of the prison industrial complex shaped contemporary art institutions and art making? Secondly, how does visual art help to reveal the depths and devastation of our nation’s penal system? These are questions that concern the terms and conditions of freedom and bondage (or what Fleetwood calls “un/freedom”). These are also the questions she employs to reveal how mass incarceration has become interwoven with cultural production. In this way, Marking Time is itself an urgently political text whose author does not mask her investment in an abolitionist framework that might lead to a world without prisons. Truthfully, any assessment of the prison industrial complex in the United States is always urgent. Because Covid-19 poses a dire threat to and exposes the extreme vulnerabilities of incarcerated populations, Marking Time’s release is especially timely, as an awareness of the impacts of mass incarceration seeps deeper and more insistently into everyday language. Fleetwood reminds her readers that the stakes are high, not just for those who are incarcerated and their loved ones, but for all of us who also believe ourselves to struggle against the carceral state.

    The killing of African American George Floyd ignited anti-racist protests around the world — many centered on statues associated with colonialism and slavery. Why do these figures of bronze and stone generate such strong feelings? And what do they tell us about how countries deal with their past?

    In Columbus, Ohio, longtime lesbian bar Slammers survived that city’s lockdown period on the prowess of its takeout pizza. It was supposed to reopen June 2, but during the uprisings in the city against police brutality, the bar was severely damaged. A former manager launched a GoFundMe to help fund repairs, with a note that “our windows and possessions can be replaced, while the lives of our slain brothers and sisters most certainly cannot.” Slammers reopened on Friday, June 12. Andrew Parnell, the general manager and “literally only guy who works behind the bar,” says that they’re taking every precaution and hoping patrons will take advantage of the patio. “We went the extra distance, spacing out tables, making sure it’s really simple and easy to keep that distance. The staff know it’s zero tolerance if someone doesn’t want to follow rules — they’re out, no questions, no explanations.” The bar is also boosting fundraisers for Columbus Freedom Fund on social media.

    Last winter, at a black-tie gala — the kind of event where guests pay $100,000 for a table — I joined some of New York’s wealthiest philanthropists in an opulently decorated ballroom. I had the ominous sense that we were eating lobster on the Titanic.

    That evening, a billionaire who made his money in private equity delivered a soliloquy to me about America’s dazzling economic growth and record low unemployment among African-Americans in particular. I reminded him that many of these jobs are low-wage and dead-end, and that the proliferation of these very jobs is one reason that inequality is growing worse. He simply looked past me, over my shoulder.

    No chief executive, investor or rich person wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror, and says, “Today, I want to go out and create more inequality in America.” And yet, all too often, that is exactly what happens.

    Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

    06/27/2020 04:06 AM The Limits of a Rapper’s Comedy

    Blueface, Find the Beat

    The new Blueface album offers a lesson in the limits of comedy. On Find the Beat, out since March, the Los Angeles rapper tells bad jokes with easy punchlines, underlines them three times in red pen, and adds several exclamation points just to make sure you notice. Finally he asks: “Did you get it?” And then, plaintively, “Was it funny?”

    For those of us who love the ridiculous, Blueface was recently the most entertaining rapper in the game. While remaining within the stylistic conventions of West Coast gangsta rap, he took his babbling, spastic flow to such an extreme that he conjured rhythmic fireworks. Too impatient to wait for the beat to catch up, he just blurted out his lines and jumped ahead even further. Rather than creating a mess, or the impression of incompetence, this approach captured a dizzy enthusiasm, a sense that he was running circles around you and could speed off in any direction. (His closest spiritual predecessor, in both form and mood, is E-40.)

    He was also the silliest of lyricists, delighting in sexual and scatalogical puns that stretch hip-hop’s tolerance for figurative language (“I’m too cocky baby cause I got two cocks” places him in a venerable rap tradition of wordplay at the expense of being literal). Far from parody, short mixtapes like Famous Cryp (2018) and the ferocious Dirt Bag (2019) made fabulous party music.

    Predictably, his success inspired a number of rap traditionalists to complain about Blueface rapping “off beat,” as if rappers must confine themselves in rhythmic boxes. Describing the dancer Storyboard P in The Wire, Greg Tate once wrote, “At moments of revolution in artistic form, innovation frequently involves discarding flashy displays of technique. The reduction of ostentatious moves in favor of subtler ones is often read as laziness or limited ability.” When critics insist on technical facility as an end in itself, they confirm this.

    With Find the Beat, his first official studio album, Blueface announces proudly and unambiguously his role as jester. From the album’s title to its cover — which portrays Blueface as the Tin Man standing in front of a yellow brick road leading to The Beat — Find the Beat takes his shtick a step further, to its logical conclusion of total absurdity.

    Alas, every song lands with a dead thud. In “Holy Moly,” a list of words that rhyme with its title (“roly,” “poly,” and so on), and “Obama,” in which he fails to rhyme the names of American presidents, his gimmicks do not expand into songs. Blueface does find a song in, say, “Carne Asada,” but he assumes a terrible Spanish accent and cracks lazy puns about Mexican food (“I put my carne in asada” must be a euphemism for something, although it’s subtler than “She wanna have sex with me cause I’m succsexful”).

    Blueface, Dirt Bag

    Previously, Blueface and his producers have assembled rickety structures from spindly piano loops and deep thumping bass — a sonic landscape whose sparsity gives him room to coast and cartwheel. Here, the beats aim for a louder sensationalism: “Vibe” marches over shrill orchestral brass, while the tinny saxophone on “Obama” panders to a received idea of sleazy glamour. Most lethally, his flow has flattened; often he drones in a tired monotone, riding the same pattern throughout entire songs. “Weekend” is the album’s tightest banger, gliding over a plinky keyboard hook that would match Blueface’s cadence if he weren’t dragging his metrical feet.

    As an artist who inspires the question, “Is he for real?” Blueface has now found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to respond. Artists caught in this dilemma usually say “Yes,” and go in a more serious direction to prove their purpose (consider how quickly PC Music devolved into standard triumphalist, festival-ready EDM). Blueface has answered with a resounding “No!” but what made Blueface so exciting was the prospect that this inventive joker could be making commercial rap music. To hear him cackling over beats that could play on hip-hop radio was to witness an irrepressible energy materializing on the horizon, a sense that he could tip the whole genre’s rhythmic balance into disarray.

    Dirt Bag, his sharpest and most accessible mixtape, hung together with an album’s consistency, but he wouldn’t stay put, jumping between flows and moods — from gunshot beats (“Dirt Bag”) to sugary Auto-Tuned confections (“Gang”) — with bratty delight, as the metallic drum machines and clean piano lines established musical boundaries he didn’t even acknowledge. Such tension depends on a certain degree of pop formalism, which gives him structures to violate. Refreshingly, the question of whether his tomfoolery was deliberate was left unresolved.

    Although one can imagine a clumsy rapper stuttering his way to accidental brilliance, lyrics like “I’m literally talkin’ in this and it’s still knockin’!” and “I was off beat so I changed my delivery” (rapped off beat) suggest he knew exactly what he was doing. But apparently that wasn’t clear enough for Blueface, as Find the Beat strains to convince you that he’s in control. Lunging for the most obvious jokes, he’s desperate to be heard and understood, and in the rush to establish self-awareness, the album loses the craft of slapstick. If anything, it’s too coherent — too single-minded in pursuit of the cheap gag.

    Blueface’s style has already caught on, as rappers like Teejayx6 and BabyTron have devised their own chaotic, babbling rhythms. Perhaps, now that Blueface has proven his intentionality, he will return to the ludic playground. If his previous work was impossible to categorize, this collection of novelty songs is just that. A rapper wearing bits and pieces of a clown outfit is weirder than a mere clown.

    06/27/2020 04:05 AM Lorna Simpson’s Cut-Up Portraits Evoke the Complexity of Identity

    Lorna Simpson , “Walk with me” (2020), collage on paper, 29 3/8 x 22 1/2 inches (all images © Lorna Simpson, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, photos by James Wang)

    Fragmentation is at the heart of Lorna Simpson’s new exhibition, Give Me Some Moments, which is currently up at Hauser & Wirth’s online viewing room. The show presents the latest pieces in Simpson’s dynamic collage practice. “The notion of fragmentation, especially of the body, is prevalent in our culture, and it’s reflected in my works,” she’s quoted on the exhibition page. “We’re fragmented not only in terms of how society regulates our bodies but in the way we think about ourselves.” Collage may be the ideal medium for depicting such fragmentation: figures are physically cut apart and recomposed into new realities. Simpson’s collages emphasize not just the deconstruction, but also how the process of stitching the images back together sparks new aesthetic and conceptual associations.

    In “Walk with me” (2020), pearls drape in luxurious loops around the necks of three Black women posed for a photograph. Their winged eyeliner complements their neat, shiny 1950s bob haircuts. Each face is an amalgamation of photographs culled from vintage issues of Ebony magazine, reconstructed into a new self. Expressions are halved or doubled; they look both toward and away from the viewer. The result is a Cubist portrait in which multiple perspectives exist at once.

    Since the mid-1980s, Simpson has been a vital, interdisciplinary force in the art world. Her early work featured striking black and white photographs juxtaposed with shards of text, evoking and confronting assumptions around race, sexuality, and gender — themes that have continued to permeate and inform all of her art. Throughout her lauded career, she has explored the conceptual and formal fragmentation of identity in a variety of mediums and modes ranging from split-screen films to atmospheric landscapes composed of layered paint, photos, and text.

    In her Photobooth series spanning 2008 through 2014, she collected, framed, and arranged vintage pocket-sized pictures, magazine clippings, and drawings. In each piece, the assembled images are held together by a theme like “With hat” or “Pairs.” By playing with scale, she represents the relationship between the individual and the collective, and contrasts an expanse of time against discrete, fleeting moments. Who were these people? What are their stories? And how do they fit into a bigger picture? There is a resourcefulness and richness to this approach — preexisting materials bring their own history and cultural context to Simpson’s art, layering and deepening their meaning.

    Around 2010, Simpson began sourcing collage images largely from old editions of the influential African American culture and politics magazines Ebony and Jet, collecting issues mostly circa the 1950s through ’70s, often focusing in on the advertisements for her subjects. Other artists including Ellen Gallagher, Theaster Gates, and Romare Bearden have also incorporated pictures from these pages into their work as a way to represent and recontextualize the imagery and experience of Black Americans. Unlike Bearden and Gates’ larger-scale works, though, most of Simpson’s new collages are under 20 inches tall or wide and mounted on gray paper with deckled edges, heightening the sense of intimacy that often haloes personal artifacts or heirlooms. These images also differ from the Photobooth series in that they were staged as advertisements or editorials, and created to be reproduced; Simpson’s collages make the images of these women precious and personal once more.

    Lorna Simpson, “Flames” (2019), found photograph and collage on paper, 2 framed collages, 19 x 14 3/16 inches, installation dimensions variable

    It can be difficult to limit Simpson’s work to a single meaning, but this ambiguity is intentional. “People really desire a narrative; they want to see a fully formed, closed, succinct message. I’ve always in some way avoided a very closed, concise narrative,” Simpson said in an interview with Brooklyn Rail last year. By resisting a neat story, she creates room for nuance and imagination. Take “Flames” (2019), a duo of collages, each of which portrays a woman’s face spliced with imagery of blazing fires. Their expressions are calm, pleasant even. Perhaps Simpson is portraying the pressure imposed on Black women to maintain composure, even as they bear the weight of systemic racism (the fire representing the very real danger of an unjust society). At the same time, the fire could be understood as a metaphor for the external manifestation of an internal emotion; or, it could represent the raging wildfires, signaling the ongoing climate catastrophe. Or, maybe the fires should be seen as an act of freedom or rebellion — a burning of prejudiced assumptions about what a Black woman could do or be. The ambiguity and tension between their expressions and the environment invites an array of interpretations.

    Lorna Simpson, *Adornment (2020), found photograph and collage on paper, 7 framed collages, 19 3/8 x 15 inches, installation dimensions variable

    In one of the seven collages that comprise “*Adornment” (2020), a woman slyly eyes the camera, her head mounted on the spindly skeleton of an unidentified creature. Simpson ties this piece to the idea of extinction: “It’s my way of asking: who are we, and what will we become?” It can also be read as a stark portrayal of how American society has inflicted and reproduced the fragmentation of non-white bodies and identities over centuries; in a recent review in 4Columns, critic Aruna D’Souza associates Simpson’s work with the racist “histories of museological display that consigned Africanness to the realm of natural history.” The collages, D’Souza explains, represent the ongoing impact of a racist society on Black women throughout time: “How to see oneself fully and with love when the world of ideas and representations is so saturated with racist assumptions?”

    Even as her work deftly addresses race and gender, Simpson resists limiting it to these categories. “Just as the Caucasian figure in contemporary art is seen as universal,” she has said, “the black figure of African descent should be, too.” What she is after is justice in representation — access to the same range of emotions and internal concerns as white society projects upon white bodies. As Teju Cole elucidated in the New York Times Magazine in 2018, to view Simpson’s work exclusively through the lens of racial and gender identity would be to miss out on the emotional and conceptual complexity and breadth that she offers.

    Lorna Simpson, “Lyra night sky styled in NYC” (2020), collage on paper, 17 15/16 x 13 11/16 inches

    Fragmentation in Simpson’s collages encompasses both the breaking down — of imagery, of bodies, of expectations—and the potential for renewal. “Lyra night sky styled in NYC” (2020) is one of Simpson’s simpler collages, created while under quarantine; the piece extends Simpson’s ongoing fascination with hair as a marker of identity, empowerment, and self-expression. In it, an image of a woman’s face from a wig advertisement remains untouched except for her hair, in whose beehive shape Simpson has inserted a vintage navy blue map of the constellations, speckled with stars. Stargazing represents both the study of the past — the light from stars taking ages to reach the earth — and a spiritual reaching towards the future. In Simpson’s depiction, hair embodies this sense of timelessness and interwoven possibility. The woman holds our gaze. Above her, the universe expands.

    Lorna Simpson: Give Me Some Moments is currently online at Hauser & Wirth. 

    06/27/2020 04:04 AM The Moral Complexity of War Games

    An-My Lê, “Explosion” (1999–2002, from the series “Small Wars”), gelatin silver print (© An-My Lê, courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery)

    PITTSBURGH — An-My Lê was born in Saigon in 1960. After spending her early childhood in Vietnam, she lived in Paris from 1968 until 1973 with her mother, who was studying English literature. They then returned for two years to Vietnam, only to be evacuated to California by the United States government in 1975, just before the North Vietnamese Army conquered Saigon.

    Lê studied biology and French at Stanford University, where she also took a photography class. After graduation, she worked in France as a photographer, came back to the US to earn an MFA from Yale University, and became an artist. In 1994, she returned to visit and photograph her native country.

    An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain, her first major museum retrospective in the US, includes more than 100 photographs. It has pictures of rural and urban life in a number of American states; images of landscapes, workers, and our armed forces overseas; a selection of photos taken in the 1990s in Vietnam; and a marvelous sequence of depictions of a rock quarry in upstate New York. Sometimes Lê works in color, but also she does black-and-white photographs. Her images are relatively small, often 26 by 38 inches, but sometimes 40 by 56.

    When Lê was researching the Vietnam War, she met Americans who created three-day-long battle reenactments, complete with mortar fire, flares, and explosions. And they allowed her to photograph them on the condition that she also participated.

    An-My Lê, “Rescue” (1999–2002, from the series “Small Wars”), gelatin silver print (courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery)

    Most of them had little military experience, and so they thought that wearing accurate uniforms and casting her, a native-born Vietnamese, in such roles as a North Vietnamese soldier or Viet Cong rebel would make their experiences more authentic. These play actors took their roles seriously. Sometimes, after they angrily cursed and screamed at her, acting in character, they were crestfallen and apologized.

    In her photograph “Sniper I,” she is in the foreground, poised ready to ambush American soldiers. And in “Lesson” (the series, Small Wars, is dated 1999-2002), she sits next to a man dressed as a GI, perhaps pretending to pass along intelligence, but maybe playing a Viet Cong agent.

    Did you play war games when you were a child? I did, but then after seeing the Vietnam War on television, the memory of such play horrified me. For this reason, it is hard for me to comprehend, or even witness the rituals that Lê depicts. Most of the re-enactors, the exhibition catalogue says, are not veterans, but trying to “work through their own issues.”

    The same presumably is true of Lê or, indeed, of anyone who recalls what it was like to have lived during that war. One way to master such fraught memories, I imagine, is to safely repeat the experience. Perhaps that is the reason why the re-enactors take the trouble to dress up and play these war games.

    And maybe that is what makes Lê’s pictures so especially compelling. Sensationalized cinematic violence in James Bond or Jason Bourne films looks totally unreal. In that way it is literally childish, like my boyhood games. But the photographs that Lê took in Vietnam are always very restrained. I especially admire “Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City” (1995) in which a group of Vietnamese wear goggles, presumably to look at an eclipse, with an image of Ho Chi Minh hung in the background.

    An-My Lê, “Portrait Studio, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf” (2009, from the series “Events Ashore”), inkjet print (© An-My Lê, courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery)

    Just as Lê returned to Vietnam, so did the American military, some decades after peace was established. Her “American Sailors Returning to Vietnam, First US Naval Exchange Activities with Vietnam People’s Navy, Da Nang, Vietnam” (2011) shows what amounts to, I would say, a political reenactment ritual, a return to the scene of the war.

    When Lê was unable to gain access to the frontlines during the Iraq War, she photographed the war games of troops training in the California desert. And so we know that the terrifying scenes in “Explosive Ordinance Disposal”or “Small Convoy Attack” (both 2003-4), in which a tiny figure seems to be hiding in the foreground, only show play-acting. Some of her photographs of the American South deal a newly urgent political theme, the removal of statues of Confederate generals. The photograph, “General Robert E. Lee and P. G. T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans” (2017) presents the future that these statues and others like them now face, crammed together in storage.

    Lê usually physically and emotionally distances her images from the events or people she’s depicting. But in the striking “US Customs and Border Protection Officer, Presidio-Ojinaga Internatonal Bridge, Presidio, Texas” (2019), she takes us close enough to read a Hispanic woman’s name tag.

    And she does the same when she portrays servicewomen close-up in “Aircraft Carrier Arresting Gear Mechanic, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf” (2009). Such close-ups are nicely complimented by “Rio Grande 1, US-Mexico Border” (2019), which presents the border from a distance with no visible human presence, or by the scenes of war games like “Mechanized Assault” (2003-4), also viewed from a safe distance.

    An-My Lê, “Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City” (1995, from the series “Viêt Nam”). gelatin silver print (© An-My Lê, courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery)

    Lê never shows the effects of violence on a human being, even simulated violence. In “Ambush III” (1999-2002) shows smoke but no carnage. In the catalogue she says, “I don’t want to be a victim and I’m not interested in making work that’s about trauma.”

    That statement is morally admirable, but can you be exposed to such scenes, even when they’re simulated, and retain your perspective? One possible answer comes when we consider her personal history. For me, as an American-born observer, the war was a ghastly imperial incursion that tragically killed more than 3,000,000 Vietnamese, as noted in the exhibition catalogue’s Timeline, as well as more than 57,000 American troops. For Lê, as a Vietnamese-born woman who became an American citizen, it was a different story — a civil war, with complicated rights and wrongs on both sides.

    But of course, at the time, the American public wasn’t generally attuned to such subtleties, and saw the Vietnam War as a conflict to be won in the cause of freedom, until the costs rose too high. Lê’s perspective is palpably and inescapably different.

    In light of these lingering issues and opposing outlooks, as Lê herself recognizes, the creation of reenactment photos is morally complex. “It has been argued that the presence of cameras normalizes and creates a sense of a just cause, a more tasteful enterprise. That is troubling to me.”

    The difficult balance, if I understand her properly, is to acknowledge the position of the other side without losing your own moral compass. On Contested Terrain is an admirable exhibition because, never blinking, Lê looks straight into such moral complexities. It inspires sustained reflection about dilemmas that won’t go away.

    An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain continues at Carnegie Museum of Art (4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) through July 26. The exhibition, which is organized by Dan Leers, curator of photography at Carnegie Museum of Art, is available online. The museum opens to the public via timed tickets on June 29.

    06/27/2020 04:03 AM Nature as Filtered Through a Screen

    Elizabeth Schwaiger, “Flooded Springs” (2019), oil, acrylic, ink on canvas, 39 x 48 inches

    It practically goes without saying that most people prefer to view visual art in person rather than online. Virtual exhibitions have been necessary proxies for firsthand experience during the time of social distancing, but they can’t fully convey sensorial qualities such as texture, scale, and light. What’s more, looking at art in person is about more than just aesthetic experience. It can also be an occasion to spend time with friends, dialogue with gallerists, schmooze with acquaintances and strangers at an opening, get some light exercise, visit a neighborhood or city, or, for the influencers among us, snap some art selfies. The viewing experience was bound to feel diminished when shunted entirely online.

    Dealing with the alienation born of secondhand knowledge may be a new phenomenon for the art industry but it has long been a core concern of eco- and climate-themed art. Because climate change occurs across vast tracts of space and time, an example of what eco-philosopher Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects,” humans only experience it in glancing, piecemeal ways. Instead, we know climate change mostly through mediation: a graph depicting atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over time; a bird’s-eye-view map of arctic ice loss; before and after photographs of a receding glacier. One way eco-art and its cognates have addressed this epistemic disjunct is to render it palpable, as when Agnes Denes planted her infamous “Wheatfield — A Confrontation” (1982) next to the lower Manhattan skyline.

    Whatever their efficacy, such aesthetic gestures raise eco-consciousness in a unique, embodied way. They give artistic form to complex, abstract-seeming phenomena — the food supply chain; commodities markets; ecological waste — and, in so doing, can make those phenomena easier to apprehend, more tangible. Most artistic media are well-suited for this ontological alchemy but depend on physical presence to achieve their full effects. It’s the difference between seeing a photograph of a painting and seeing the painting in person, the difference between seeing an image of a wheat field and feeling wheat stems crunch underfoot as bugs swirl around you in the earth-scented air. What happens, then, to the viewer experience of eco-art when shifted online and what might it suggest about the nature of the online gallery experience?

    Squeak Carnwath, “Go to the Sea” (2018), gouache and graphite on polypropylene, 29.3 x 29.3 inches

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder

    The directive “Go/ To THE SEA,” written in teal blue gouache, enjoins the text, “to See/ the BLuE oF The WATER/ touching the SKY.” This poetic instruction in Squeak Carnwath’s wistful painting “Go to the Sea” (2018) serves as an apt entry into Jane Lombard Gallery’s attractive online exhibition In Celebration of the Natural World, organized in response to New York City’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Similar to how the viewing room serves as a digital surrogate for the inaccessible gallery, “Go to the Sea” gestures toward an experience that can’t occur within the painting itself.

    Carnwath is well aware of painting’s limitations and possibilities. Instead of trying to provide a plausible mimetic substitute for the juxtaposition of water and sky blues, she incorporates into the work one of her signature color grids — associative daubs of a loose color family, in this case blue — to highlight the difference between a painter’s palette and color as it exists beyond the frame. An explanatory note embedded in the grid of green and brown daubs atop her painting “How Many Greens” (2018) also emphasizes the disjunct between art and life: “from memory of direct observation (of mostly growing things & plant life).”

    Just as Carnwath’s paintings embrace their own artifice rather than feign verisimilitude, online exhibitions are better off focusing on the medium’s strengths than trying to replicate the gallery experience. In Celebration of the Natural World has the same features as most commercial galleries’ online viewing rooms: images of individual artworks, each with a button for purchase inquiries, along with snippets of explanatory text. If the viewer isn’t familiar with the work, as was the case for me with Elizabeth Schwaiger’s beguiling oil paintings of hallucinatory floods, it is hard to know what the secondhand experience might occlude.

    Still, keeping things simple seems preferable to trying to mimic the gallery experience in virtual space. For example, Artificial Ecologies, an online exhibition curated by Isabel Beavers for CultureHub’s Re-Fest, showcases work by four eco-artists (Richelle Gribble, Maru Garcia, Julian Stein, and Beavers herself) in a pixelated 3D environment whose spare, blocky architecture recalls first-person 1990s computer games such as Myst. The exhibition’s soundscapes were compelling but its spatial environment was difficult to navigate and visually reductive. When I followed the link to Julian Stein’s artist website to watch an embedded Vimeo of his eerie generative sound installation, “the wind repeats itself: blue grama” (2017), the return to a plain interface felt welcome.

    All that’s solid

    Artist Julia Christensen’s concept of “upgrade culture” — the belief that new digital technologies need constantly to replace old ones — offers a big-picture perspective on questions of replaceability in both art and life. Her excellent artist book from Dancing Foxes Press, Upgrade Available, as well as an eponymous online exhibition at ArtCenter College of Design, explore the material consequences of upgrade culture’s consumerist logic. Christensen’s project is the synthesis of nearly a decade of applied artistic research, encompassing visits to e-waste processing plants in India, a residency in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art+Technology Lab, an ongoing collaboration with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and a self-inventory of her private archive of family images and videos.

    How audiences absorb the results of such a heterogeneous project depends in no small part on its method and medium of presentation. ArtCenter’s online exhibition — a brief medley of image and text for each of the project’s major components — wisely doesn’t pretend it can do much more than provide a sampler menu for the postponed gallery exhibition. The book, on the other hand, showcases the project in its full depth and breadth. It includes images, thematically organized essays by, and conversations with Christensen (her conversation about e-waste with Indian artist Ravi Agarwal is particularly eye-opening). It would be hard to overstate how consistently Dancing Foxes Press develops this type of ambitious art project into an appealing, context-rich book; its catalogue, now almost a decade old, sets a high standard for what an artist book can be and do.

    It’s fitting that Upgrade Available works well as a book, considering its misgivings about technological obsolescence. It works so well in part because Christensen is an insightful writer — with a penchant for neologistic concepts such as “upgrade culture,” “technology time,” and “institution time” — and in part because the project itself, brimming with narrative and conceptual complexities, is perfectly suited to written discourse. The book format left me especially curious to experience the artworks in person. While a photographic series such as Technology Time (2011-ongoing), which depicts forlorn piles of outdated e-waste, translates successfully to book and website images, a sculptural installation such as Burnouts (2013) — projections of celestial constellations no longer visible due to light pollution, which use discarded iPhones as the installation’s only light source — seems dependent on firsthand viewer experience.

    Julia Christensen, antenna tree model (Mt. Wilson), digital photograph, dimensions variable, from “Tree of Life” (2019-ongoing)

    Dynamics of presence and absence, distance and proximity, are crucial to Upgrade Available’s as-yet-unbuilt capstone project, Tree of Life (2019-ongoing). In an effort to think far beyond the time horizon of planned obsolescence, Christensen and her NASA JPL collaborators are developing a satellite that will orbit earth for 200 years and communicate with a tree whose trunk and branches are outfitted with donut-shaped antennae that loosely resemble rings hooped around ring toss pegs. Data about both the tree’s and the satellite’s environmental health will be translated into audible sonic frequencies that can be transmitted via radio to comprise a metaphorical “200-year duet.” Like British composer Jem Finer’s 1,000-year-long song, “Longplayer” (2000-ongoing), Christensen’s Tree of Life is designed to exceed the spatial and temporal bounds of individual experience. The question is whether an artwork that is itself a hyperobject is best suited to address the epistemic disjunct inherent to the human experience of other hyperobjects.

    If a tree falls in the forest

    Meteorological Mobilities, an online exhibition curated by Marianna Tsionki for what was planned as a gallery exhibition at New York City’s apexart, contemplates this question by bringing it back down to earth. The exhibition’s four artworks depict the human displacement that is already occurring in different places around the globe as a result of climate change. This quietly powerful show suggests not only aesthetic strategies for addressing eco-alienation but also curatorial strategies for addressing the alienation viewers experience with online exhibitions. In particular, the online version of apexart’s explanatory brochure provides contextual ballast without taxing the viewer’s attention span.

    MAP Office, Learning from the Gypsies: Ghost Island (2019), digital video, 40 min (still)

    Another thing that makes Meteorological Mobilities effective is that three of its four pieces are videos, an artistic medium that works particularly well in the online environment. For example, MAP Office’s fictional 40-minute film Learning from the Gypsies: Ghost Island (2019) portrays, with almost no dialogue or dramatic conflict, the quotidian fisherman’s life for Gung, a member of the southeast Asian Urak Lawoi’ tribe. Gung lives in a “Ghost Island,” a waterlogged latticework architectural hut that MAP Office’s artistic duo of Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix have installed at exhibition sites around Asia. The contrast between the structure’s impracticality as shelter (it’s entirely porous to the elements) and Gung’s survivalist routine points up the benefits of MAP’s lightly fictionalized approach. The film, along with its accompanying mock-touristic postcard series (“Greetings From Ghost Island, Thailand!”), never pretends to be pure anthropology and, as a result, achieves surprising poignancy and watchability.

    Kivalina: The Coming Storm (2014) manages to be even slower paced and less action-filled than Ghost Island yet just as engaging. Produced by a cadre of artists for a project, Modeling Kivalina, begun under the umbrella of Forensic Architecture (Andrea Bagnato, Daniel Fernández Pascual, Helene Kazan, Hannah Meszaros Martin, and Alon Schwabe), the non-fictional video chronicles the plight of the Iñupiat village of Kivalina, which is situated on a barrier island along Alaska’s northwest coast and imperiled by rising sea levels. As residents recount in voiceovers their tribe’s embattled past (in 1905 the Bureau of Indian Affairs forced the Iñupiaq to settle in Kivalina), the camera remains fixed on a vantage of the ocean’s horizon as seen from the shore. No humans, or human-made things, appear on screen for the video’s 35- minute duration, just waves lapping against the shore, at first calmly, then with increased agitation.

    It’s no coincidence that these two videos from Meteorological Mobilities have been the most powerful visual art I’ve experienced since museums and galleries went online in March. Both use aesthetic understatement to convey a sense of how viewers can be physically disconnected from, yet still somehow implicated in, a phenomenon much larger than themselves. There’s a real sense — with consequences our species has only just begun to endure — in which existentially threatening hyperobjects such as climate change and the coronavirus pandemic feel unreal to the humans who undergo them. Indeed, such objects call into question what it even means to speak of encountering them first- or secondhand. Online exhibitions of eco-art can’t definitively answer that question but they can allow viewers to feel the extent to which they’re alienated from a crucial aspect of their own experience.

    In Celebration of the Natural World is currently online at Jane Lombard Gallery.

    Artificial Ecologies continues online at Culture Hub’s Re-Fest through June 30.

    Julia Christensen: Upgrade Available is currently online at ArtCenter.

    Upgrade Available by Julia Christensen is published by Dancing Foxes Press and is available online and from indie booksellers.

    Meteorological Mobilities is currently online at apexart.

    06/27/2020 04:01 AM The White Melting Pot

    Stephanie H. Shih, installation view of “88” (2018), ceramic (image courtesy the artist, photo by Robert Bredvad)

    Something I noticed after the country went into quarantine was that people began to post pictures on their social media platforms of the foods they were making at home. For a while, many people baked sourdough loaves. I saw lots of ethnic food as well as views of elaborate meals, even though no one was coming to dinner.

    I also noticed that little attention was paid in the photos to the plates and platters on which the food was served. It got me thinking: The vessel is integral to the history of ceramics. When we think of food, we might not care what delivers it to the table, but when we think of ceramics, we might wish that no food or beverage ever dirtied it.

    Until the 1950s, ceramics was a genre connected primarily with function, and rarely accepted as fine art. Peter Voulkos is widely considered the first ceramic artist to break down the barrier separating the functional with the purely aesthetic object. Voulkos’s breakthrough, which has been well documented, took place during the 1950s, and culminated in his 1959 exhibition of huge ceramic sculptures at the Landau Gallery in Los Angeles.

    Voulkos was invited to teach at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design) in 1954. He remained there until his controversial Landau Gallery show, at which point he took a teaching position at UC Berkeley. Voulkos’s students at Otis included John Mason and Ken Price, both of whom gained a reputation for their ceramic sculptures. Robert Arneson, who was not Voulkos’s student, was nonetheless changed by his encounter with the latter’s work.

    Jiha Moon, “YouandI (Fortune cookie)” (2015), porcelain, underglaze, glaze, 5 x 5 x 5 inches (image courtesy the artist)

    While Voulkos broke down the barrier separating craft from art, he acknowledged the long history of ceramics, making plates and vessels, as did Price and Arneson. It is the dialogue between function and aesthetics, those who play with it (for instance, Jun Kaneko, Mary Heilmann, Joyce Robins, and Kathy Butterly), and their juxtaposition of color and materials that interests me.

    This interplay is evident in the ceramic sculptures of Jiha Moon and Stephanie H. Shih. I first saw Moon’s work in 2000, when she was in the MFA program at the University of Iowa. In 2012, she received a working artist’s grant from the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. She used it to sign up at a local clay studio in Atlanta, and began incorporating ceramics into her practice. I first saw Shih’s work on Instagram, a social media platform that I began looking at while under quarantine.

    The former artist makes ceramic fortune cookies, while the latter makes ceramic dumplings, both collapsing vessel and food. In fact, if we think of ceramics as intrinsically bound up with functional vessels then the fortune cookie and dumpling are perfect subjects; they are vessels.

    There is something primary about folding and pinching together the dough — or clay — to make a fortune cookie or a dumpling. You don’t need to get an MFA to learn how to do it. Along with a snowman, a dumpling might have been one of the first sculptures you made as a child. There is a deadpan humor to using clay to make a foodstuff that is also a vessel that is heated (baked, boiled, steamed, or fried) and eaten. At the same time, there is nothing elaborate or fancy about their shapes; diners don’t sit at a table and decide which fortune cookie or dumpling to pick up because of its aesthetic appeal, and both are mass-produced.

    Voulkos and Stanley Rosen (who taught ceramics at Bennington College from 1960 until 1991) set the formal precedents for Moon and Shih, both of whom begin with circular pieces of clay — essentially an abstract form. Voulkos used clay slabs to make many of his works and Rosen begins many of his sculptures with a coil that is less than an inch in length, pinched at both ends.

    Stephanie H. Shih, “Hormel Foods Spam” (2019), ceramic, 3.5 x 4 x 2.5 inches (image courtesy the artist, photo by Robert Bredvad)

    All four artists eschew the wheel. Yet while Voulkos was inspired by Abstract Expressionism, and Rosen has been influenced by vernacular architecture and the history of vessels, Moon and Shih are inspired by the forms of commonplace Asian foods.

    Recently, I reviewed the exhibition Jiha Moon: Enigmatics at Derek Eller Gallery (January 4 – February 2, 2020). Seeing pictures of home-cooked food on social media reminded me of Moon’s fortune cookies, which I did not emphasize in my review, and made me rethink their importance.

    It is one thing to incorporate hand-folded and pinched fortune cookies into your work and another to silkscreen green bottles of Coca-Cola, as in the 112 nearly identical bottles in Andy Warhol’s “Green Coca-Cola Bottles” (1962).

    In his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again (1975), Warhol gave this as his reason for making “Green Coca-Cola Bottles”:

    You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.

    Warhol’s anti-elitist statement has been read as implicitly political. Coca-Cola is easy to obtain, but then so are fortune cookies and dumplings. The difference is that Warhol’s subject is a mass-produced, widely distributed, inexpensive American product, which is sold all over the world, a triumph of US capitalism.

    Warhol, the son of Slavic immigrants who changed his name from Andrew Warhola, wanted to assimilate, to become an invisible white American — which is to say someone whose cultural identity is deemed unimportant. Coca-Cola fit in neatly with that desire because it is a post-ethnic product, even more so than Campbell’s soup.

    Although it originated in San Francisco, the fortune cookie is synonymous with Chinese restaurants. Makoto Hagiwara first served the cookies in the Japanese Tea Garden located in Golden Gate Park as early as the 1890s. Made of common Western ingredients (flour, salt, vanilla, and sugar blended into an egg-white mixture), it is an invented hybrid that has come to signify Chinese culture and folk customs.

    Jiha Moon, “Immortal dessert (Dixie)” (2020), earthenware, porcelain, underglaze, glaze, 13 x 13 x 8 inches (image courtesy the artist)

    Like bread, dumplings can be found in nearly every culture, and have been part of Chinese cuisine for at least 1,800 years. There are machines that make fortune cookies. A machine is available that makes dumplings and spring rolls, as well as samosas and empanadas, keeping its ethnic identity fluid. Neither Moon nor Shih use a machine.

    Born in Daegu, South Korea, in 1973, Moon was in her mid-20s when she came to America in the late 1990s to earn her MFA at the University of Iowa. Having lived more than two decades in one culture and a similar length in another, the fortune cookie, which was both invented and adapted, seems a perfect form for her work. She always paints and draws on them. In some cases they exist on their own; in others, they are attached to her vessels to indicate eyes, ears, or hands. By granting the form different functions as part of her vessels, she underscores its adaptability to different situations and challenges, while maintaining its essential abstraction.

    Shih’s dumplings are nearly indistinguishable from each other, an ironic commentary on the history of ceramics and its development of differently shaped vessels. They come in two editions: one that is white, like the actual dumpling, and another that is painted a glossy, lustrous gold. Like Moon’s, Shih’s work can brim with humor. On her website, she describes the white ones as follows:

    Hand-Folded porcelain dumpling with a creamy, super soft glaze. Signed.

    With her ceramic dumplings, she breaks down the barrier between making sustenance and making art. In addition to the dumplings, Shih makes ceramic versions of items you would likely find in an Asian grocery store: bags of rice, cans and bottles of sauce; instant noodle and soup packages; candy; Spam.

    Stephanie H. Shih, installation view, various works (2018), ceramic (image courtesy the artist, photo by Robert Bredvad)

    Shih’s parents emigrated from Taiwan to the United States in the mid-1980s to attend graduate school in Philadelphia. She studied journalism at Boston University and told me in an email that she was “lucky that my practice and career found me anyway.”

    Shih’s food products speak to a seismic shift in America’s demographics that began to take place around the time of the Civil Rights movement. In 1882, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting the immigration of all Chinese laborers. In 1943, 105 Chinese were allowed to enter each year. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 did away with the National Origins Formula, which set quotas in order to preserve America’s largely white Protestant population. Along with setting immigration quotas, with special attention to certain non-white and non-Christian countries, the current administration also wants to roll back gains made in the fight for equality because of the Civil Rights movement.

    Like Moon, Shih’s work is both aesthetic and political, a commentary on assimilation as a process in which one’s national origin is not forgotten or erased. This resistance troubles a significant number of Americans. They might go to a Chinese restaurant and open their fortune cookie at the end of the meal, but they don’t like the colorful diversity that the future holds for them.

    06/27/2020 04:00 AM Ying Li’s Ecstatic Landscapes

    Ying Li, “Telluride, Valley of the Hanging Water #3” (2019), oil on linen, 24 x 24 inches (all images courtesy Pamela Salisbury Gallery, Hudson, New York)

    I first saw Ying Li’s work in a two-artist exhibition in which she shared the gallery space with my wife, Eve Aschheim (Ying Li/Eve Aschheim: Recent Paintings at the New York Studio School, June 6 – July 28, 2013). Like others who have written about her work, I was immediately struck by her sybaritic application of thick paint to modestly sized canvases.

    Li paints on site, which she indicates in her titles, such as “Telluride, Valley of the Hanging Water #3” (2019, oil on linen, 24 x 24 inches) and “Rosendale Trestle” (2019, oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches). When she makes large paintings in her studio, she evokes the city as subject matter, as in “Writing the City #3” (2020, oil on linen, 74 x 58 inches). These three paintings, along with 11 others, will be featured in her upcoming exhibition, Ying Li: Alterity, at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, Hudson, New York (June 27–July 26, 2020).

    The other thing that struck me about Li’s work — an impression that has stayed with me — is the way she enlivens what many have considered an exhausted possibility: the vigorous application of thick paint in service of a perception of nature. You might think, from this description, that I’m writing about a painter working in the late 1950s, in the wake of the Abstract Expressionists, who showed in an artist-run gallery on Tenth Street in New York City.

    Ying Li, “Rosendale Trestle” (2019), oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches

    A lot of writers have evoked Abstract Expressionism while extolling Li’s paintings. However, during that era, we might remember, Clement Greenberg believed that gestural painting had devolved into a mannerism, leading him to come up with the dismissive term, “Tenth Street touch” for artists who, to his eye, were working in the shadow of Willem de Kooning.

    This knot is what I began thinking about while contemplating Li’s work. And the longer I looked at it, the more I was convinced that even the most positive reviews written about her paintings failed to address a key aspect of her artistic development. It seemed to me that Li is free of the baggage associated with thick gestural painting. How had she arrived at a place that was not at all nostalgic for the past, or mannered in its gestures?

    I decided to contact Li about her early history, previous to her arrival in America, which I felt would be a key to what I was seeing, and not seeing, in her work. In 1983, when she immigrated to New York from China, Li was already an accomplished artist working in two styles that the art world would never have recognized, then or now: traditional Chinese ink-wash landscapes and Soviet-style propaganda paintings.

    Ying Li, “Bee Keeper’s Farm, Castro Marim #3” (2020), oil on linen, 18 x 24 inches

    Essentially, Li went from a world that accepted her, albeit with many rules and restrictions, to one that was less restrictive but also dismissive of the art she was making. How do you become accepted in this new situation without losing yourself and going completely adrift?

    In an email Li sent me (June 23, 2020) in response to my questions, she wrote that she had “painted mural paintings of Mao’s portraits in the village where I was sent during Cultural Revolution.” She also “painted historical propaganda paintings commissioned by the government when I was teaching at Anhui Normal University.”

    In this same email, she stated:

    I studied traditional Chinese ink wash painting in college, from 74-77. It was a requirement for students, I was one of them, whose concentration was Western oil painting. I hated it at the time and thought it was like painting with soy sauce. All I wanted was to paint with color. I was foolish.

    Li was not permitted to apply to colleges outside of Anhui, a landlocked province. Anhui Normal University, where she studied art, was “the only university that offered Fine Arts study in Anhui Provence at the time.”

    Ying Li, “Telluride, Valley of the Hanging Water #5” (2019), oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches

    What Li did not state in her email was that “Western oil painting” was synonymous with Soviet-style socialist realism. But she dreamed of painting in intense, exciting color.

    By the time Li traveled to the United States, she was in her early 30s. It was the first time that she saw oil paintings by artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Chaim Soutine, Willem de Kooning, and Lois Dodd. Not one to look back, she also took classes at Parsons School of Design, where she studied with Leland Bell, John Heliker, and Paul Resika, three strong-minded, unfashionable, modernist painters who engaged in rigorous arguments with the institutionally supported direction that art has taken since the mid-1950s.

    This is what I find remarkable about Li’s work. In order to make it, she had to reinvent herself in her 30s and already deeply grounded in two other traditions. Against all odds, she decided she was going to have a second act. Moreover, her encounters with strong-minded teachers resulted in work that in no way resembles theirs. Her interest in exploring many aspects of a single a motif is something she shared with both Bell and Resika, but that is about as far as the connection goes.

    Li’s dramatic and remarkable reinvention, her joyous exploration of color, which she had only been able to dream about in China for so many years, brings to mind another Asian artist, Kenzo Okada (1902-1982), who was a highly respected realist painter in Japan when he came to New York in 1950, where he began making sensitive abstract paintings that still have not gotten the attention they deserve. I have often wondered if one reason for this is that Okada’s paintings seem too Asian for New York tastes.

    Ying Li, “To the Secret Garden” (2018), oil on linen, 24 x 18 inches

    What Li does is seamlessly merge structure and improvisation in the treatment of her subjects, which are rural landscapes — fields, mountains, rivers, and trees. The paint is applied thick with all kinds of instruments, from different-sized brushes to direct squeezes from the tube. The surfaces are built as dense as stucco. A wide sweep of striated paint moving across the surface reveals its inner colors, like a roughly surfaced stone.

    Absorbing lessons from Vincent van Gogh, Li uses the direction of the brushstrokes to convey motion, the continuously changing landscape, and the world in constant transformation. Once we know Li’s history, it is hard not to think that the joy we see in the work is rooted in her youthful dreams of painting in intense color while luxuriating in oil paint’s materiality.

    The subject emerges out of the structuring of the marks, all of which are different. While vigorously applied, it is evident how much control Li possesses over her medium. The thickness of the paint allows for both fast and slow strokes, and for the muscle memory of years of calligraphy to kick in.

    This is what I thought about when I was looking through images of the work in her upcoming show, that her previous reviewers, by emphasizing a connection to Abstract Expressionism, however well intentioned, overlook the deeper roots of Li’s mark-making, which is calligraphy.

    Ying Li, “Chautauqua Bell #23” (2018), oil on linen, 20 x 24 inches

    The compositional structure of “Chautauqua Belle #23” (2018, oil on linen, 20 x 24 inches), with strong verticals on the painting’s left and right side and horizontals set between them, is hardly new, but in Li’s hands, it is fresh. She layers the elements yet manages to keep each color intact — which is hard to do when painting wet into wet. There are red lines, evidently squeezed from the tube, in the lower left hand corner, along with a thick pink zigzag squiggle on the left side and blue marks in the sky.

    Direct and deft, the individuality of these marks seems possible only after years of practicing calligraphy. This is part of what Li was able to transform from her background into her reinvented method. She did not completely reject her past, but rather turned it into something that was new for her. In the process, she came up with new ways to celebrate color.

    Chinese ink wash landscape painting is made of abstract calligraphic marks. It is not about resemblance but essence. By bringing that knowledge and experience to the colors of oil paint, Li has created something all her own. That she did so at an age when many artists would already be set in their ways, is miraculous, and the joy of that turning point in her life and career radiates throughout all her work.

    Ying Li: Alterity opens at Pamela Salisbury Gallery (362 1/2 Warren Street, Hudson, New York) on June 27 and continues through July 26.

    06/26/2020 08:50 PM What the Art World Is Cooking

    Johannes Vermeer’s iconic “Milkmaid” gets ready to massage mountains of kale leaves for Brandy Carstens’s Kale Cesar salad, included in this week’s column (edit by Valentina Di Liscia)

    “For the first time in years, I have pretty much cooked or assembled everything I’ve eaten in the past two months,” Frieze editor at large Jennifer Higgie told Hyperallergic for the fourth edition of our ongoing cooking column. Those of us who can relate know that cooking, as comforting as it may be, is a task.

    One solution: cook things you can eat for days. Brandy Carstens of Matthew Brown Gallery in Los Angeles makes a kale caesar salad out of a colossal mountain of kale and a whole can of anchovies. (“It may seem excessive, but it performs an umami bomb labor of love.”) Handily, she explains the dressing can be used on pretty much anything else: “Crudités, avocado toast, chicken salad, coleslaw…Join my daily plight to find vehicles for mayonnaise.”

    Also, stock up on canned or dry chickpeas: you can make Higgie’s brilliant, mint-speckled frittata or curator Laura Raicovich’s cavatelli with broccoli and ceci, the adorable Italian word for garbanzo beans. And in a special treat, Rebecca Federman, managing research librarian at the New York Public Library and self-professed “culinary collections enthusiast,” shares a white bean soup recipe straight from the stacks. 

    For those who prefer to skip straight to dessert, try flan with dulce de leche — Americas Society director and chief curator of visual arts Aimé Iglesias Lukin shows us how.

    Jennifer Higgie, Editor: Chickpea, Zucchini and Mint Frittata, Sort Of

    This frittata’s “gloomy brown surface is enlivened with a scattering of bright mint.” (photo by Jennifer Higgie)

    “I love cooking but, like so many people, life gets in the way. The curse and blessing of the art world is too many nights on the tiles and too many days getting takeout. Notwithstanding the terrible things the plague has wreaked upon the world, it has slowed us all down. For the first time in years, I have pretty much cooked or assembled everything I’ve eaten in the past two months. I’ve been experimenting with meals that don’t require too much fuss. My rules are one pot, a few easily sourced ingredients, delicious and quick to make.

    To my mind, this recipe tastes of spring: mint, lemon, garlic, chili, and zucchini. It emerged from memories of eating chickpea fritters in Italy and seeing something similar on Instagram, I forget where. You can rustle it up in 20 minutes but be warned: sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t — alchemy plays a part in its success. If there are vegetables you like more than zucchini you can use them of course, but it they’re hard (like potatoes) best to roast them first. You could also add beans, red peppers, or anything else you like. It’s a recipe to play around with.

    This serves two people, or one if you’re very peckish.

    One red onion
    A few cloves of garlic
    Fresh or dried chili
    Chickpea flour (known as Gram)
    Fresh mint
    Handful of Walnuts
    Two zucchinis
    Yeast flakes (optional)
    Fresh tomatoes

    Slowly fry the diced onion in olive oil. Add garlic, salt, pepper, a dash of chili and some lemon zest and, when they’re all nicely cooked, the juice of a lemon and a handful of finely chopped fresh mint. Stir in the sliced zucchini and the smashed up walnuts. If it gets a little dry while it’s cooking, add more olive oil. Reduce and stir now and then.

    In the meantime, mix around half a cup or so of chickpea flour with enough water in a bowl so it’s thickish but runny enough to pour. Stir in salt, pepper and, if you want it to taste a little cheesy, a tablespoon or so of yeast flakes. (Use parmesan if you like actual cheese.) Pour it into the frying pan, mix it all up and let it settle, cook for a couple of minutes then put under the grill until it’s nice and crispy on top.

    It needs to cool for a few minutes before eating; it’s also good cold the next day. Serve with fresh tomatoes or tomato salsa. Its gloomy brown surface is enlivened with a scattering of bright mint.”

    Rebecca Federman, Librarian: Summer White Bean Soup with Tomato Salad Topping

    Rebecca, a research librarian at NYPL, adapted this recipe from Viana La Place’s cookbook Verdura (photo by Rebecca Federman)

    “Summer soups call to mind gazpacho or chilled cucumber, but this white bean soup also falls into the summer soup category, or at least helps bridge the seasons. It comes from  Viana La Place’s cookbook Verdura. La Place has a warm and devoted following, deservedly. She co-wrote wonderful cookbooks with Evan Kleiman like Cucina Rustica and Pasta Fresca, both focused on fresh, seasonal but unpretentious cooking. Verdura, I find, gets fewer mentions, but I keep it close by in the kitchen for ideas, especially around this time of year. The book features lots of herbs, vegetables, hot pasta, cold rice, stone fruits, and simple but creative ways of putting them all together. This white bean soup is just one example. 

    You combine olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and basil with cooked beans and their liquid. Cook for a while, add water, simmer, add small pasta (elbows, orzo, even broken up bits of spaghetti would be good) and then simmer until the pasta is cooked through. It might resemble beige gruel as this point, but then you top each bowl off with basil or pesto, raw tomatoes, plus a shaving of parmesan cheese. The cool raw tomatoes and basil mixed with the creamy white beans and pasta is wonderfully satisfying and summery. 

    2 Roma tomatoes, cut into small dice
    ¼ small red onion, finely diced
    10 basil leaves, divided
    5 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
    2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
    ½ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
    2 cups Cannellini beans or white beans, with about ½ cup bean broth
    3 cups water
    ½ cup small pasta shape
    Ground pepper
    Grated Parmesan cheese
    Salt to taste

    Combine the tomato and red onion in a small bowl. Cut 8 basil leaves into strips and add to the bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss mixture and season with salt to taste.

    Combine in a soup pot four tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and red chili pepper. Tear the remaining two basil leaves into large fragments and add to the pot. Cook over low heat for two to three minutes. Add the beans and the bean broth, and cook, covered, over medium-low heat. Use a wooden spoon to crush about one fourth of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the broth. After 15 minutes, add the water and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste and stir. Add the pasta, stir well and good into a gentle boil until the pasta is al dente. 

    Ladle the soups in soup bowls. Spoon some of the topping in the center of each bowl. Grind black pepper over the top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve Parmesan cheese on the side if desired.”

    Aimé Iglesias Lukin, Curator: Flan Con Dulce De Leche

    Aimé, director and chief curator of visual arts at Americas Society, makes a homemade flan and homemade dulce de leche to serve on top.

    “While the current pandemic forces us to stay home, for many of us migrants ‘home’ is a complex notion related more to memories and ideas than to specific geography. Taste and smell play a protagonist role in nostalgia, and during this quarantine, I’ve found myself cooking a lot of the recipes I learned while growing up in Buenos Aires. This one is from my mom, and it makes me feel closer to home, and as we all know … ‘Home is where you want to be!’

    1 can of condensed milk
    1 cup of sugar
    12 eggs
    1 lt. (0.25 gallons) of milk
    1/2 spoon of vanilla extract

    For the dulce de leche:
    Remove the label in 1 can of condensed milk and boil for three full hours with water covering the whole can. Let dry, open can, let dry, mix, and transfer to a glass jar. Eat!

    For the flan:
    Put one cup of sugar into a tall metal pan (ideally a baking mold, like the one used for cakes) and burn the sugar on the stove so it will melt into caramel, swaying the pan with a glove and perhaps the help of a spoon so that the caramel is well distributed among all borders. Set aside and let cool.

    In a bowl or blender, mix the 12 eggs, quarter gallon of milk, and 1/2 spoon of vanilla extract until the mix is a little bubbly. Place the caramelized mold into a larger pan filled with water to create a water bath. Add the mix to the mold and cook at 450 degrees or so for half an hour or 40 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean. Don’t overcook it, because it will dry (it’ll still be tasty, but it will be hard to unmold!)

    Let cool for a few minutes outside the oven and then place in the fridge for 3+ hours until the flan is really cool.

    Aimé shows us exactly how to unmold a flan without breaking it.

    To serve: place a dish on top of the baking mold. Holding both the top and bottom firmly (see pic above), turn upside down with a quick and determined movement. If it does not unmold on its own, repeat or carefully separate sides with the help of a knife. The caramel will fall on top of the flan. Add the dulce de leche on the center, around, on top, or wherever you want!”

    Brandy Carstens, Gallerist: Kale Cesar

    The kale requires “an essential amount of massaging” before you can add the dressing to the salad. (photo by Brandy Carstens)

    “Chances are, if you’ve been over for dinner I fed you some iteration of my kale caesar. This salad is savory and deeply satisfying, but also quite light and nutrient-dense. You can tailor it to your tastes (increase lemon, garlic, etc.) but trust in the whole can of anchovies: it may seem excessive, but performs an umami bomb labor of love. There is an essential amount of massaging and handling that tenderizes and dries the kale before you add dressing. Don’t skip these steps, your efforts will be well-received. And make extra, this salad gets better with time.

    Dressing Ingredients
    3–4 egg yolks (pasture raised bright orange, if you can find them)
    1–2 garlic cloves, smashed and finely minced
    Large scoop of mustard (I use whole grain)
    1 can of anchovies packed in oil (reserve oil)
    Juice of 1/2–1 lemon
    1/4–1/2 cup olive oil (the better the oil, the tastier the dressing)
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Salad Ingredients
    2-3 heads of Curly Kale
    Nutritional Yeast

    Optional toppings:
    Make quick croutons with stale bread
    Avocado, poached eggs, pickled onions, radishes and carrots are also favorites.

    The process of making the dressing is essentially the same as emulsifying mayonnaise. I use an emersion hand blender. (If you don’t own one you can whisk your heart out. I implore you to invest, they are cheap and life changing kitchen workhorses.)

    Macerate the garlic together with anchovies until you make a paste. Mix with the mustard and lemon juice, then whisk in egg yolks. Slowly whisk (or blend) in the oil anchovies were packed in, then add additional olive oil one or two drops at a time. You really must add oil slowly. Be sure oil is completely incorporated before adding more. The mixture will begin to emulsify. You can continue adding as much oil as you like. Taste as you go and see how you enjoy the potency. I add about a 1/4 cup of olive oil for two or three heads of kale. It’s okay if it is not perfectly emulsified the first time you attempt dressing — it will still be delicious, trust me.

    Dressing also plays well with crudités, avocado toast, chicken salad, coleslaw —join my daily plight to find vehicles for mayonnaise.

    Drying the kale well before adding the dressing is imperative, “otherwise you will be serving soupy salad.” (photo by Brandy Carstens)

    To make the salad:
    Curly kale, the most common variety, works best. It carries the Cesar dressing properly but requires an ample amount of massaging. Trim stems and soak kale leaves in cold water bath to remove all dirt. The kale will absorb water too, and become heartier. Remove kale from woody stems in handfuls. The more you work with hands the better. (Note: f you are working with limp kale bunches—before you begin to work the kale, trim the stems, put into cold water and stick in the fridge for an hour. The kale will absorb the water and perk right up.)

    Drain kale, squeeze out all water thoroughly, and lay it out to dry. Lay out onto towels, rolling up and squeezing with kitchen towels that you don’t mind turning green.

    The drying process is imperative. You want the kale to be as dry as possible before adding dressing, which will be absorbed much better by dry kale. Otherwise you will be serving soupy salad.

    Once kale pieces are dry, move to your salad bowl and massage in dressing well, layer by layer with your hands. Sprinkle in nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese as you go.”

    Laura Raicovich, Curator: Cavatelli with Broccoli and Ceci

    As you cook the sauce it gets creamy and the nuttiness of the ceci starts to blend with the brassica pungency of the broccoli.” (photo by Laura Raicovich)

    “This hearty sauce is a riff on something I ate once at Cookshop, where I used to go quite regularly when I worked at Dia [Art Foundation]. It’s vegetarian and delicious and can be paired with a lot of pasta shapes, or can be served as a side dish or a stand-alone stew. I love this dish with fresh cavatelli from Borgatti’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, which isn’t far from where my mother’s grandparents and great aunts and uncles lived after migrating to the US from the hills outside of Naples. I can imagine this kind of vegetable-focused pasta being served in winter in their apartment on Ellis Avenue, which was occupied by my grandmother, her four sisters and two brothers. If you don’t have cavatelli, orecchiette or cavatappi are also great.

    Also, I’ve discovered during the crisis that dried beans cooked in a pressure cooker are infinitely more delicious than those from a can (although you can certainly used canned ceci too!) I pressure cook 2 1/4 cups of dried ceci (chickpeas or garbanzos) in six cups of water for 55 minutes in my Instant Pot and they are perfect and nutty-delicious every time (no salt, no garlic, no nothing!) I then use some for salads and soups (or this sauce) throughout the week. They keep in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for a week or even a few days more….

    As you cook the sauce it gets creamy and the nuttiness of the ceci starts to blend with the brassica pungency of the broccoli. When you top it with grated parmigiano (always Reggiano!) and lots of black pepper as well as a stream of fresh olive oil, it makes a great dinner. Plus, leftovers make a terrific frittata ingredient or even just some extra good scrambled eggs.

    2 cups cooked or canned ceci (chickpeas or garbanzos)
    2 bunches of broccoli, cut into medium and large florets, stems peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
    3-4 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
    Peperoncino (dried red pepper flakes) to taste
    4 Tbs. olive oil plus another bit to add at the end
    2 cups of water
    1 lb cavatelli
    Salt and black pepper
    Grated parmigiano

    Put the ceci and broccoli in a heavy pot and add some salt, the peperoncino, garlic, and four tablespoons of the olive oil. Add two cups of water and cover, cooking on a very low flame for about 90 minutes, or longer. The slow, long cooking makes the broccoli and chickpeas soft and blends their flavors beautifully.

    Check the pot along the way and add more water if it seems too low. If everything gets very soft more quickly and you have a lot of water left, you can turn the heat to high and stir it, cooking uncovered to evaporate the excess liquid. You can cook this sauce more or less depending on your taste. Once all the stems are soft, I like to stir the broccoli and ceci mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon which transforms the vegetables into creamy sauce, but you can also leave the ingredients more intact like in the photo.

    Once the sauce is done, cook the pasta in salted water reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid before draining. Cook the pasta a little less than you typically would and add it to the broccoli and ceci, along with the reserved pasta cooking liquid. Combine the sauce, pasta, and liquid, cooking on a medium flame until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente. Serve it right away with parmigiano grated on top and a bit of fresh olive oil.

    Buon appetito!”

    06/26/2020 07:37 PM Amid Mass Furloughs, Philadelphia Museum of Art Workers Schedule Union Election

    The Philadelphia Museum of Art (photo by via Shinya Suzuki via Flickr)

    Following a month of negotiations, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) Union has reached an agreement with the institution’s leadership, and a mail-in union election has been scheduled for July. The news comes only days after PMA’s announcement that it would cut more than 100 employees, or over 20% of its workforce, via a combination of furloughs and voluntary separation agreements.

    Many of the furloughs consist of visitor services representatives, front of house staff, and other workers. In a significant accomplishment in the wake of these staff reductions, furloughed workers will still be able to vote in the union election along with their non-furloughed colleagues. Furloughed employees’ votes will also count even if they are laid off mid-election, a move that may become necessary as the museum grapples with a $6.5 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year.

    In an interview with Hyperallergic, Nicole Cook, Program Manager for Graduate Academic Partnerships at PMA and member of the union organizing committee, said getting the election scheduled is an important victory.

    “We believe that the outpouring of public support, from museum supporters and visitors to Philadelphia City Council Members, helped us reach this agreement and we are grateful to each and every person and organization expressing solidarity,” said Cook. “As we move forward with our election, we’ll be talking to our coworkers and finding ways to support our furloughed colleagues. We are the PMA and we’re in this together.”

    Cook says an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was filed on May 22. The group asked museum leadership to voluntarily recognize the union that same day, but PMA declined. The museum has sought the guidance of its long-term counsel, Philadelphia-based corporate law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a reputed “union avoidance” firm.

    Initially, Cook says, the museum asked for two bargaining units, divided between so-called “core” and “non-core” departments — curatorial, conservation, and education staff considered in the former category, while departments such as visitor services, retail, and membership would fall in the latter. Members of the union and others have called out the museum for making this distinction, arguing that such hierarchical definitions ignore the contributions of workers at all levels who keep the institution functioning.

    “We’ve always been committed to a wall-to-wall union,” Cook said. “We do not see this division of core versus non-core staff. We see the way we work together every day on all sorts of projects. The museum ultimately backed off from that request, so we will be advocating for all eligible employees.”

    Any employee working at least four hours a week at the museum, based on their schedule before the pandemic-related museum shutdown on March 13, will be eligible for the union. Before the recently implemented staff reduction, the museum’s workforce consisted of around 500 employees, and Cook says the union will include hundreds of eligible workers. They are strongly advocating for both part-time employees and contracted workers, who have been particularly vulnerable in the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19, to be represented. Some subcontracted workers, such as the museum’s security guards, are already represented by separate unions.

    When asked why the museum did not voluntarily recognize the union, a museum spokesperson cited an email sent by PMA CEO Timothy Rub to staff last week in which he says that “all eligible employees should have the opportunity to decide through a vote if they want union representation.”

    Cook, who has worked at the PMA for a little under three years, first got involved in conversations for better working conditions about a year ago. She says she and other workers were inspired by the collective salary spreadsheet started by Art Museum + Transparency, which was co-founded by Michelle Millar Fisher, formerly an assistant curator at the PMA.

    “It kicked off a lot of really organic conversations with colleagues at the museum around issues of pay, compensation, and benefits, but also just the lack of transparency that we saw within our own institution,” said Cook.

    Earlier this year, PMA was at the center of two back-t0-back controversies related to workplace harassment. In January, the museum publicly apologized for mishandling allegations of sexual misconduct against departed employee Joshua R. Helmer; less than a month later, an exposé in the Philadelphia Inquirer detailing shocking accusations of physical and verbal abuse against the museum’s previous director of retail, James A. Cincotta.

    “We were humbled by the people that did decide to come forward about their experiences,” said Cook. “The press around that allowed us to pick up momentum and find out who was interested in being involved, and how a union could provide the kind of safety and transparency that would lead to a more empowered workforce in general.”

    In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, union members said they were still reeling from the news of vast furloughs across the museum.

    “Given that we have been ready to vote since we filed in May, we wish our campaign were already resolved, either through voluntary recognition or a more speedily agreed-upon election,” the statement reads. “However, today’s agreement is a big win for all eligible staff, and we are also heartened that furloughed workers will have a say in the future of the museum.”

    A spokesperson for PMA told Hyperallergic that this is the first time the museum has had to cut staff since it closed to the public in March, and furloughed workers will retain health benefits. The institution does not expect to open again until late summer, with more specific dates still to be defined.

    “I wish that the steps we took in early April to retain all of our staff had been sufficient to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the museum,” said Rub in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. He continued:

    Regrettably, we find ourselves facing a crisis that is much more severe in impact and duration than we had initially imagined. Although the reduction in force we have announced today is smaller in percentage terms than those implemented by many other cultural institutions, the fact is that taking such a step is heartbreaking. We’ve had to make some very tough choices and to do so in a way that we feel is best for this institution and its ability to continue serving the public in the long term.

    The union election is slated to take place by mail, with ballots going out on July 9, due on July 30, and counted August 6.

    06/26/2020 07:03 PM Teenager Who Threw Child From Tate Modern Balcony Is Sentenced to 15 Years

    Tate Modern (via Geoff Stearns/Flickr)

    In August 2019, a British teenager nearly killed a 6-year-old boy after pushing him from the 10th-floor viewing platform of the Tate Modern in London. The accused, Jonty Bravery, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder, admitting to premeditating the attack in the hopes of being featured on the news. Today, he was sentenced in a British court to at least 15 years in prison.

    Judge Maura McGowan described Bravery as a “danger to the public” and said he had “a very serious mental disorder and a personality disorder.” According to the New York Times, the prosecution told the court that Bravery committed the violent act in order to “prove a point” to his parents and others who denied his mental health issues.

    The boy remains hospitalized over nine months after the attack took place. In an update posted on a GoFundMe page raising funds for related medical expenses, his parents said that he is making progress.

    The Tate Modern’s viewing platform, which offers a 360-degree-view of London, regularly draws tourists. Both the platform and the museum were temporarily closed immediately following the incident.

    06/26/2020 05:37 PM A Benin Bronze With Fishy Provenance Goes to Auction

    A popular meme about the British Museum (via)

    In comparison to the monumental bronze statues being torn down by protestors around the world, a bronze sculpture of a fish, smaller than the length of an arm, might seem insignificant. But, just like the statues of slave-owners, this fish — which will be auctioned by Christie’s auction house in Paris next week — represents a past of violent oppression. As we reconsider who we honor through public art, we also need to think about the art inside museum walls and collectors’ homes.

    The sculpture of a fish being offered at an upcoming Christie’s sale (screenshot of the item page in context)

    Christie’s identifies the fish sculpture as made in the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now the country of Nigeria. But the auction house listing doesn’t tell you how the fish got from one of the oldest states in West Africa to end up in a private collection in Western Europe. The artwork is beautiful, but it’s no wonder that Christie’s has tried to erase this ugly history. In 1897, Benin was an independent kingdom whose ruler, the Oba, dared to impose an embargo on exporting palm-oil products into British-controlled territory. British traders complained, and James Robert Phillips, the Acting Consul-General of the neighboring Niger Coast Protectorate, advanced into Benin. His aim was to depose the Oba and bring the kingdom under British control, but his expedition was attacked by the Benin army. Only two of its British officers survived. A few weeks later, the British Admiralty, under the premise of avenging the dead, sent what they called a Punitive Expedition to complete their mission.

    After three days of looting, the invading forces burnt down Benin’s capital city. A photograph shows the gaunt Oba, wearing a velvet robe but with his feet in shackles, just before he was sent into exile. Other photographs reveal triumphal soldiers squatting amidst piles of ivory and artworks they pulled from the Oba’s palace. These were just the first of the countless resources taken from a colonized Benin before Nigeria declared its independence in 1954.

    The Punitive Expedition paid for itself in part by selling off artworks taken from the palace. The “Benin Bronzes,” as they became known, astounded Europeans who had thought of African art as crude. They were made by highly skilled sculptors beginning in the late 15th century to commemorate each new Oba. They included representations of animals, like the fish, that symbolized an Oba’s qualities.

    By the time the British arrived, the whole history of the kingdom was displayed in the palace’s thousands of sculptures. But now, only a handful remain in Nigeria. The rest are scattered in museums and private collections, mainly in Europe and the Americas.

    Earlier this month, Mwazulu Diyabanza, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was arrested after leading a group of activists into Paris’ Quai Branly Museum to seize a wooden ritual pole they said had been pillaged from colonized Africa. Diyabanza, whose trial is set for September, faces up to seven years in prison. The pole remains in the Paris museum, where it has good company (it is estimated that more than 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is held outside the continent). The Quai Branly alone holds 70,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa. Despite President Macron’s 2018 order that French institutions return illegally procured artifacts to former colonies in Africa, the museum has so far repatriated only a single object.

    The sacred sculptures being offered at an upcoming Christie’s sale (screenshot of the item page in context)

    The Benin fish isn’t the only morally questionable item for sale in the upcoming auction. Christie’s is also offering two sacred sculptures removed from Nigeria in the late 1960s. The Princeton art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu calls these objects “blood art,” since they were taken in the chaos of a bloody civil war. A petition to stop their sale asks potential buyers not to forget that “it is not just the black body, but also black culture, identity and especially art that is being misappropriated.” The auction also features a Hopi katchina statue. Hopi representatives tried to prevent katsinim and other sacred objects from being auctioned off in France in 2016 but failed. The laws that prevent these sales in United States don’t apply in Europe.

    The objects in this Christie’s sale allcome from the estate of James and Marilynn Alsdorf; the couple accumulated an art collection so large that it has provided material for multiple auctions. Earlier in June, the auction house had to withdraw four Greek and Roman antiquities from one of these sales when evidence emerged that they had been looted and smuggled out of Italy. Christie’s had listed these antiquities for sale with blank spaces in their history, just like the Benin fish.

    I asked Christie’s when the fish was sculpted. The specialist who answered my email wrote that “one might think” it was made in the 17th century because it looks similar to another Benin fish sculpture made then, but the quality of its casting “might be indicative of a much later century of production.” In other words, Christie’s can argue that its fish was made either before or after the Punitive Expedition, depending on whether a buyer is comfortable with the possibility that it was looted or not. It is true that Benin eventually began to produce bronze artworks after its conquest, but these later artworks have a different style. I asked an expert in Benin Bronzes about the Christie’s fish. They are confident it was made before the Punitive Expedition.

    In 2011, an ivory mask looted from Benin was withdrawn from a Sotheby’s auction after public protest. It might be that Christie’s is testing the waters with this fish, to see if we have forgotten our outrage over the fate of Benin. But withdrawing Benin artifacts from a sale isn’t good enough. That just means that they go back into the hands of their current owners, who are free to sell them privately. Instead, the art of Benin should go back home. Owners can repatriate it themselves or work with museums to do so, as the grandson of one of the looters has recently done. Donations of artifacts to nonprofit organizations for the purposes of repatriation can even give an owner the benefit of a tax deduction without encouraging the market, as happened with the Aidonia Treasure.

    Repatriating cultural objects will not make up for colonial despoliation. But as the ongoing protests about public monuments show, people care deeply about art. Letting a monument to a slave trader stand without listening to those who question its right to be there perpetuates white supremacy. Ignoring calls for the return of looted art is just as cruel.

    In the case of the sculpture headed to Christie’s auction, it shows a fish, but not just any fish. It is an African sharp-toothed catfish. In Benin, these fish were revered for their powers of survival. They have special breathing systems that allow them to survive for a year burrowed into the mud of a dried-up pond before the rains return to let them swim again. This sculpture, like the catfish it represents, seems to have been in suspended animation since it was taken from Benin. Hopefully, it will have the chance to rejuvenate itself by returning home, where it can swim once more in the currents of the culture it was created in.

    06/26/2020 05:30 PM Shop Hyperallergic for Art-Inspired Gifts and More

    It’s been a busy couple of months at the Hyperallergic Store. All throughout quarantine, we’ve been hard at work shipping packages and replenishing our stock with the best art-inspired gifts, books, and toys.

    We’re continuing to carry your favorites, but we recently added a number of exciting new products we also want to give a little attention to. If you’re looking for something to brighten your day (or someone else’s), take a look at some of the new additions and classic bestsellers we have in the store.


    New Arrivals

    “Vitruvian Man” Enamel Pin

    Now you can obsess over perfect proportions without having to work out! This eye-catching soft enamel pin, inspired by one of the most iconic drawings of the Italian Renaissance, “Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo da Vinci, will demonstrate your appreciation for art history as well as a great bod.

    Yinka Shonibare Bone China Tableware

    This mug-and-plate set features art by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, whose incredible work deals with colonialism, post-colonialism, and cultural identity. The whimsical illustration on this tableware appears to be a bunch of balloons dragging a Y-shaped bone across the surface but really, interpretation is up to the beholder.

    “The Scream” Pop-Up Card

    Do you hear that sound? Could it be… an infinite scream passing through nature? Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch thought so too when he painted his iconic modern masterpiece “The Scream,” now available as a spooky pop-up card you can put on display, or send to your friends and family to show them how you really feel.

    “Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge” Enamel Pin

    Celebrate the start of summer with this verdant pin inspired by Monet’s Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge paintings. Through this series, the Impressionist giant was able to capture the ever-changing atmosphere of his gardens at Giverny and now, over a hundred years later, you can have a tiny enamel version of your very own. (Shop more art-inspired enamel pins in our store).


    Recent Bestsellers

    Guerrilla Girls Tea Towel

    Originally a poster that appeared in New York City in 1988, this tea towel is infused with Guerrilla Girls pink and lists 13 advantages of being a woman artist, such as being included in revised versions of art history and not having to undergo the embarrassment of being called a genius! This sardonic design also comes as a clutch.

    “Joy I Feel When Love Has Blossomed” Handkerchief

    Sneeze in style into this handkerchief designed by the one and only Yayoi Kusama. Made of fine lawn cotton with hand-rolled edges, this handkerchief can be put to its traditional use or framed and hung on display in the home. And if you’re a Kusama fan, you’ll love the rest of her collection in the Hyperallergic Store.

    René Magritte Action Figure

    Ceci n’est pas une pomme — but it is apple scented. Introduce a little surrealism to your shelves with this René Magritte action figure! He comes with a bowler hat, his signature pipe, an easel to display four miniature reproductions of some of his most famous works, and a foot-shoe inspired by “The Red Model.” This figurine is part of a series of artist collectibles including Mary Cassatt, Vincent van Gogh, and more.

    “The Dinner Party” Coaster Set

    This set of four corkboard coasters is based on Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” a massive ceremonial banquet arranged on a triangular table with 39 place settings, each commemorating an important woman from history. The next time we’re able to safely host dinner parties of our own, we can’t wait to use these coasters to wow our guests with how meta we are.

    “Bedroom in Arles” Pop-Up Card

    What better way to let your loved ones know how much you miss them than through a beautifully crafted pop-up card inspired by a painting of a lonely man’s bedroom? This card is based on Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles series, and it’s so delicately modeled with such intricate details that we think it stands on its own as a work of art.

    Ridiculous Inflatable Swan-Thing

    One of our most popular items is the Ridiculous Inflatable Swan-Thing and really, is that a surprise to anyone? Originally designed by British artist David Shrigley as a limited-edition sculptural piece, this pool float can’t wait to come home and flip your neighbors the bird as you splash about. Love the swan but no watering hole to speak of? Don’t worry, it also comes as a squeezable stress-thing and keychain-thing.


    Visit the Hyperallergic Store for more.

    Please allow for extra time for shipping as we work through orders.

    Thank you for supporting Hyperallergic with your purchase!

    06/26/2020 03:48 PM Spike Lee’s Latest Is a Thorny Portrait of Black Masculinity and Generational Trauma

    From left to right: Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Delroy Lindo, Clark Peters, and Jonathan Majors in Da 5 Bloods (2020), dir. Spike Lee (all images courtesy Netflix © 2020)

    Spike Lee’s latest film, Da 5 Bloods, was produced before protests erupted globally over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and other Black people at the hands of police. The film successfully conveys the feeling of dread that many Black Americans experience daily — the feeling that they are fighting a war which may never really end.

    We are introduced to our protagonists in Ho Chi Minh City with a warm airport reunion scene. Handshakes, insults, and hugs are exchanged as viewers meet the  four African-American veterans who have returned to Vietnam to recover a buried chest full of gold and the remains of their friend Norman, who died in combat. “The Bloods,” Paul, Eddie, Otis, Melvin (Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and “Stormin’ Norman” (Chadwick Boseman) shared a close bond. The de facto leader, Norman emphasized the importance of brotherhood: “He was our Malcolm and our Martin,” Otis recalls at one point.

    The poster for Da 5 Bloods (2020), dir. Spike Lee

    Fittingly, we are presented with Malcolm X and MLK-style speeches from the get-go. The film begins with a montage of historical footage chronicling significant events of the 70s, effectively setting the stage. Muhammad Ali argues against Black people fighting in Vietnam as images of Black soldiers in faraway fields fill the screen, meanwhile Black children dig through piles of trash in Harlem. Kwame Ture announces to a crowd that “America has declared war on Black people,”  instilling a sense of urgency to the film. Decades-old footage of protests against police brutality and racism resonate particularly strongly, echoing the injustices of the present.

    While sometimes gratuitous in its use of violence — photos from the My Lai massacre, and images of severed limbs, explosions and gunshot wounds abound —  the film effectively conveys the gravity of the circumstances. In booming voice-over, Malcolm X scolds, “You take 20 million Black people and make them fight all your wars and pick all your cotton and never give them any recompense,” before the film cuts to the airport reunion.

    In an Apocalypse Now-themed bar, the Bloods catch up. Lee, who co-wrote the script with Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo and Kevin Willmott, offers an interesting moment from Paul, who wears a MAGA cap throughout the film.“I’m tired of not getting mine,” he shoots, defending his support of Trump. It’s an age-old argument: individualism at the cost of other people’s lives. It’s an argument that fueled the Vietnam war in the first place.  Throughout the film, we see how Paul arrives at this belief. The voice of Hanoi Hannah (embodied by Ngo Thanh Van) plays throughout the film, reminding Black GIs that their country does not care about them. Based on the real radio host who worked with Northern Vietnamese fighters to broadcast propaganda to American troops, hers is a voice internalized by the Bloods. When they return to Vietnam decades later, they’re still reckoning with her truths.

    From Da 5 Bloods (2020), dir. Spike Lee

    Lee presents Vietnam through a flawed, but Black lens: in the present, the country is still recovering from the “American war,” and there is palpable tension between the returning Bloods and locals. It’s unclear who has the right to claim the treasure: the Black American vets, or the Vietnamese gunmen who also feel owed reparations for their generational suffering? Either way, both parties seem to agree that it doesn’t belong to Uncle Sam. While Vietnamese characters are portrayed as resentful, often unfortunately appearing as nameless beggars and market vendors, the Bloods similarly resent the US government for drafting them into a violent conflict while refusing them basic rights.

    Memories of Norman act as a kind of moral compass. In flashback scenes, Norman remains young while the Bloods are portrayed by the same actors as those in the present-day. Norman, unchanged, remains perfect in their memory. Time has aged the other Bloods and made them weaker as a unit. “War is about money. Money is about war,” Norman advises in one scene. The Bloods’ disjointed mission to find buried treasure indicates how far they have strayed from Norman’s beliefs over the years.

    From Da 5 Bloods (2020), dir. Spike Lee

    Lee expertly juxtaposes vulnerability and violence throughout the film. In one scene, Paul has an intense experience with a firing squad while giddily singing Marvin Gaye’s “God is Love.” The Bloods tease each other, until a joke hits a nerve or an explosive argument breaks out. It creates a strange pace, one that makes viewers laugh both out of humor and out of nervousness. You can feel this tension most through the addition of Paul’s son, David (Jonathan Majors), to the team. He tags along, awkwardly infiltrating the trip. Lee grapples with masculinity most evidently using David’s relationship to his father’s PTSD. The film makes it clear that David too has suffered as part of the war’s cost.

    The men often recite a mantra: “Bloods don’t die — we multiply.” The centrality of brotherhood — and its bonds through joy and pain — comes up often in Lee’s films, including his canonical Do The Right Thing (1989). While this latest film’s ending feels a little too on-the-nose when it comes to grappling with other weighty themes like legacy and forgiveness, it hits the nail on the head with the complicated nature of Blackness and brotherhood.

    From Da 5 Bloods (2020), dir. Spike Lee

    At its core, Da 5 Bloods is about unfairness. David struggles to understand his father’s ways, just as the Bloods struggle to understand why they ever fought in the war in the first place. This crux and the unwillingness to accept such unfairness continues to fuel the Black Lives Matter movement today.

    Da 5 Bloods (2020), dir. Spike Lee, is now streaming on Netflix. 

    06/26/2020 02:08 PM Queer Art Workers Reflect: Dana Suleymanova Is Rooting for More Queer Arts Educators

    Artist Dana Suleymanova with her work “Venus” (2020), foam, gripper, polyurethane rubber, ceramic, epoxy dough (all images courtesy Dana Suleymanova)

    The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

    Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them.

    * * *

    What’s your name?

    Dana Suleymanova

    Where are you based currently? 

    Philadelphia, PA

    Describe who you are and what you do.

    I am a sculptor, video, and performance artist who recently moved to Philadelphia from Houston. I work primarily with foam, rubber, paper, ceramics, and other fiber-related materials in my sculpture practice and oftentimes create my own props and costumes for campy and humorous performance and video works. Additionally, I am an arts educator who teaches stop motion and ceramics to kids of various ages. I also really enjoy organizing exhibitions and programming events, however I haven’t gotten much of a chance to do that as of late since I am still acclimating into the Philly art scene

    Dana Suleymanova, from Dear Cupid (2019), performance, Philadelphia Fringe Festival, 2019

    Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

    My greatest achievement thus far would have to be getting chosen to perform at Love Park for Philly’s FringeArts Festival this past year. It was my first time doing an outdoor public performance and my first time receiving a grant to perform a piece. It helped give me confidence seeing that people are interested in my performance work and that I could actually be compensated for my performance labor.

    Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

    I celebrate my queerness by dressing queer and experimenting with my clothes/ appearance. In terms of celebrating my community, I just enjoy showing up to my friends’ events, performances, and shows. I also promote my queer friends’ endeavors on social media. I think those things can go a long way.

    What’s been top of mind for you lately?

    Besides the impending doom feelings I’ve just been having a lot of gratitude. Very grateful for my health and the wellbeing of my close friends and family. But also trying to make the most of the slow pace that life is moving at and gain some new skills and new ideas.

    An artwork by Dana Suleymanova

    Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

    I’m not sure I really have a queer community that supports me as much as the Texas art community that I still receive a lot of support from. I love the artists and organizers that I met living in Houston and Austin and I still keep in contact with many of them and look to them for support. I’m still in the process of meeting artists and fellow queers in Philly and I hope to start working towards building that community when I can be a little less distant from them.

    How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

    I haven’t thought much about that with everything else happening — hopefully educating myself more on the queer artists that came before me and maybe a little dancing.

    Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

    Money is always cool. I think certain institutions have worked towards supporting marginalized communities more than others so it would be nice to see more widespread attempts at showing art from a variety of different perspectives. It would be nice to see exhibitions of queer artists have more nuance. I feel like there is a tendency to lump queer art into survey shows of queerness but I think it would be interesting to see shows with some more specificity. I also think it is important to have queer educators as well that help build the confidence of the young queer artists that are going to come after us.

    An artwork by Dana Suleymanova

    In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

    It would be nice to move towards having more compassion in all communities. Even though I think we’ve come a long way in terms of recognizing and celebrating differences within the queer community, I believe we can still have more empathy and understanding for one another. I also think that queer spaces are still very white-male-centered and it would be refreshing to move towards more inclusive spaces that welcome all the folks on the LGBTQ spectrum.

    What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

    Hug some friends.

    Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

    06/26/2020 01:00 PM A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine

    This is the 166th installment of a series in which artists send in a photo and a description of their workspace. In light of COVID-19, we’ve asked participants to reflect on how the pandemic has changed their studio space and/or if they are focusing on particular projects while quarantining. Want to take part? Submit your studio — just check out the submission guidelines.

    Sarah Morejohn, Plainsboro, New Jersey


    My studio is located in a corner of my apartment that I share with my husband and our pet rabbit. I’ve had this setup before the quarantine; in fact, I haven’t had a dedicated studio space since graduating college in 2011. I don’t know if this has helped or hindered me. Sometimes I wish I could have a large empty space to make my work in and watch the drawings ripple out from one another, but at the moment this is the most comforting place I have. I feel guilty luck to have financial security and to be in an emotionally stable relationship. My work has shifted since March in many ways. I’m making drawings with a different mark-making language on larger sheets of paper, I’m cutting things out, I’m finding myself trying any wild idea, knowing that I have vast amounts of time to spend. At first, I was working a lot trying to quell anxiety and uncertainty. Now I’m racing less, trying to relearn how to be.

    Star Trauth, Miami, Florida


    On March 9 I walked to dinner with my husband and returned hone. That was the last time I was out. I’m high-risk. I’ve suffered many respiratory illnesses, ICU, and intubation; home is where I am. I’ve survived much. Art is my salve, family is my peace. So I stay, during which I’ve scratched open many scabs to create pieces while inside. On view are several pieces in various states of progress. I like to work on more than one at a time.

    It does press down on me, how much a person can bear. What type of illness or abuse can you come back from? How much can I take? Can you take? My work explores how much my material can take before it burns to nothing. It starts as water bottle waste turned into fiber. I give it life again just to see how far I can stretch it. Literally.

    I hand-mold and fire-mold each component. Each one its own work of art. I assemble it into mounted sculpture or tapestry. I’m taking waste from man and bending it to my will to give back something interesting and beautiful.

    Poonam Jain, Bangalore, India


    I have been in Bangalore since the 20th of March. I came here from Bombay with the few papers and pens that I always carry during short travels. As it turns out, my stay here is for a longer period this time.

    Boredom gave me time to clean the excess messages and emails from my phone. These texts and immobility have become materials to make a series of drawings; at least that’s the idea for now. These are also just sketches, yet a way of passing time in an ineffable period. I like to think as if I am using Law of Conservation of Energy, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and that energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. In these drawings, virtual trash becomes material to fill space in twisted architectural spaces that resemble crumbled paper or beaten metal sheets.

    Luci Gutierrez, Washington, DC


    The portrait of an artist is a difficult thing to capture. The canvases that we create memorialize a moment of beauty, of inspiration, of a deeply moving feeling, sometimes wrought through months or years of work. But what the canvas forgets is all the moments surrounding it. The nights where we stay up to paint after the children have gone to sleep, the hours that we spent typing at our keyboards during office hours with paint-stained fingers, the things that we sacrificed to keep the dream going.

    But the dream lives. It moves through me. It’s carried through me, through generations of inspired women. When I paint, I paint about home, I paint the wild earth and the deep greens of the Amazon, I paint the dirt so that you can almost feel it in your fingers, and the sky so that you can almost touch the stars.

    And so I built my home like I built my art, to remind me of where I’m from, to remind my children, who watch me create every day. I want them to know that even in this world we live in, that the dream is still real. That there is magic in the universe, and it doesn’t come from some far-off place, but it’s built at home, in the space in which we live, where they watch me paint, where we can create new worlds together.

    Petey Brown, Brooklyn, New York


    Being sequestered at home in Brooklyn has changed my routine as well as my subject matter. Because I am in the vulnerable group I have stayed home; because of this, I make sure to do a yoga routine every day first thing in the morning. Previously, I took daily walks of at least three miles, but these are no longer happening. Neither are commutes to my lovely studio in Soho where I have been working for more than 20 years. Instead, I have repurposed a guest room (which we are very lucky to have) into a studio by covering everything with plastic tarps. The bed has become a surface for supplies and pieces that are drying. A side table with drawers for guests’ belongings now serves as a palette table. I am taking inspiration from domestic surroundings, my environment inside and out. Brownstone details combined with figurative suggestions are a comfort for me right now. Smaller formats work for these personal pieces.

    Although I am physically comfortable, the horrific news is a continuing presence in this calm home. I am not marching but can hear chants of the protestors on Flatbush Ave and join in silent accord.

    06/26/2020 11:00 AM Week in Review: NYC Theodore Roosevelt Statue Will Be Removed; New Orleans Museum Workers Expose Racism

    Protesters protesting in front of and covering the Roosevelt statue with a parachute in October of 2016 (by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

    Week in Review is a weekly collection of news, developments, and stirrings in the art world. Subscribe to receive these posts as a weekly newsletter.

    Former staff members at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) accused the institution of sustaining a “plantation-like culture” in an open letter released this week. Incidents include a staffer being asked to cut their dreadlocks and the permanent installation of a plantation parlor against the advisement of Black staff.

    The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is at the center of controversy for asking faculty not to affiliate with the school in their activism activities. Alumni and students of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, including Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Didier William, have signed letters of concern condemning the college’s non-affiliation policies.

    After years of protest, a Theodore Roosevelt statue will be removed from The American Natural History MuseumAn internal memo to the museum’s staff over the weekend was the first to announce the decision to remove the controversial statues on Central Park West.

    A Black Lives Matter mural stretches from New York and Brooklyn Avenues on Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy (photo by Linda Shell, used with permission)

    A community of artists is calling on the International Center of Photography to set ethical guidelines for protest photographyNoah Morrison, founding member of ICP Center Blackness Now, says the International Center of Photography’s response to their efforts has been superficial.

    A new mural stretching 565 feet in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, memorializes over 150 victims of fatal anti-Black violence, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

    According to a study conducted by the data analysis company BeenVerified, 1,712 Confederate Monuments remain standing in the USFor every monument that has been removed, 10 others remain.

    Giampietrino and Giovanni Antonio Boltfraffio, copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” (ca. 1515-1520), oil on canvas, 119 x 309 inches (© Photo: Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photograph by Prudence Cuming Associates Limited)

    Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the “Last Supper” has faded and cracked over time, but an accurate reproduction likely made by one of his pupils has been digitized.

    The New York Times reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art plans to reopen August 29, but the museum has yet to issue an official statement.


    Mario Carreno, “Cortadores de cana” (courtesy Sotheby’s)

    Facebook, which has become a hub for the trafficking of looted antiquities, announced a policy banning the “exchange, sale, or purchase of all historical artifacts” across its platforms (that means Instagram, too). The move comes in response to a report published by the Antiquities Trafficking & Heritage Anthropology Research project, which discovered that Facebook groups dedicated to antiquities trafficking had nearly 2 million members. The social media giant’s implementation of a blanket ban of historical artifact sales makes a lot of sense, as determining provenance on a case-by-case basis on its platforms would be Sisyphean.

    In Sotheby’s hybrid live-online Impressionist & Modern sales in New York later this month, the auction house will be highlighting a collection of work by Latin American Surrealist and Modernist artists. The 35 works on offer include pieces by well-known names like Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo, and Wilfredo Lam, whose 1943 painting “Omi Obini” is estimated at $8 million to $12 million. Sotheby’s began to incorporate Modern Latin American Art into its Impressionist & Modern Art sales two years ago.

    Phillips London restarted its live auctions with a strong Design sale that had a 95% sell-through rate by lot. The sale, which was originally scheduled for March, garnered £5,323,750, or around $6.6 million, well over the pre-sale estimate of £4 million (about $4.9 million). The sale was led by Claude Lalanne’s “Unique Low Table” (1998), which sold for £312,500 (~$387,000), and records were set for several artist-designers including Edmund de Waal and Mario Gottardi.

    This Week in the Art World

    Wendy Red Star, “1880 Crow Peace Delegation: Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Medicine Crow (Raven)” (2014) (The Baltimore Museum of Art. Purchase with exchange funds from the Pearlstone Family Fund and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

    The Baltimore Museum of Art announced new acquisitions including work by Wendy Red Star and Martine Syms. | Baltimore Museum of Art

    Julie Rodrigues Widholm will be the new director of the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). | via email announcement

    The Hackney Council in London selected Thomas J. Price and Veronica Ryan to make public artworks. | Dazed

    Director Jill Snyder has resigned from the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. | HYPEBEAST 

    Sohrab Mohebbi will curate the 2022 Carnegie International. | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Venus Over Manhattan in New York City added the estate of Roy De Forest to its roster. | ARTnews

    Shalini Le Gall was appointed to the position of Chief Curator of European Art at the Portland Museum of Art. | via email announcement

    Beijing gallery Tabula Rasa is expanding to London. | Art Newspaper

    Marc Chennault has joined the board of the Joan Mitchell Foundation in New York. | via press release

    Film still from Arthur Jafa’s The White Album (2018) (Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York/Rome)

    Stockholm’s Moderna Museet acquired Arthur Jafa’s “The White Album.” | Moderna Museet

    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York selected 47 art organizations as its Spring 2020 grantees. | ARTnews

    Hauser & Wirth has expanded to the Hamptons. | artnet

    The Musée de l’Elysée announced the nominees for the Prix Elysée. | e-flux

    Jessica Silverman Gallery now represents Andrea Bowers. | ARTnews

    Upstart Co-Lab launched a coalition consisting of 10 cultural institutions including BRIC and Souls Grown Deep Foundation. | Barron’s

    In Memoriam

    Anna Blume (1936–2020), German photographer | ARTnews

    Chris Busa (1946–2020), Provincetown Arts founder | Wicked Local Provincetown

    Gaylord Chan (1925–2020), Hong Kong Modernist painter | Art Newspaper

    Paolo Giorgio Ferri (1947–2020), Italian art restitution prosecutor | New York Times

    Paul Fortune (1950–2020), interior designer | Architectural Digest

    Li Zhensheng (1940–2020), Chinese photographer | Guardian

    Robert Richardson Jr. (1934–2020), biographer | New York Times

    Joel Schumacher (1939–2020), popular filmmaker | Variety

    Carlos Ruiz Zafón (1964–2020), Spanish novelist | Guardian

    06/26/2020 12:29 AM Open Letter Lambastes Racism and Homophobia at New Orleans Museum of Art

    The New Orleans Museum of Art (Reading Tom/Flickr)

    Former staff members at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) accuse the institution of sustaining a “plantation-like culture” in a damning open letter released this week.

    The letter was penned by five former NOMA workers: Jennifer Williams; Dr. fari nzinga; Ifátùmínínú Bamgbàlà Arẹ̀sà (formerly known as Kelsi Brooks); Jonathan Serrette; and Jane Kate Wood. The authors say they are part of the 30 employees who have resigned from the museum in the past two years as a result of its “toxic work environment and institutional racism.”

    The group outlined a number of detailed allegations accusing museum officials of blatant racism and homophobia. They list the use of slurs; discrimination against Black workers in wages and job promotions; and surveillance of targeted workers, among other complaints. The letter is signed by hundreds of supporters.

    The former workers say that when they reported these incidents to the museum’s top officials — Susan Taylor, Museum Director; Anne Banos, Deputy Director; and Donna Dunn, Human Resource Manager — many of them were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and were “targeted and bullied” until they resigned.

    The open letter lambastes the museum for permanently installing the interior of a parlor suite at the Greenwood Plantation (now called Butler-Greenwood) in St. Francisville, Louisiana. The plantation was one of four that belonged to the Louisiana Matthews family, who enslaved 500 people. A press release for the exhibition, which opened in December of 2019, says that the installation was mounted to “recognize all the lives lived at Greenwood Plantation — Harriet Mathews, her family, and, equally, the enslaved men, women, and children whose labor created their wealth.”    

    The group says that information about the parlor’s installation was deliberately withheld from workers. “Pain and concern expressed by Black staff, volunteers, and community members about the Greenwood parlor exhibition was disregarded,” the former workers wrote. “How can the New Orleans Museum of Art claim to encourage dialogue while refusing to hear or respect the concerns of Black members of their own staff?”

    The parlor installation eventually led to the resignation of Jennifer Williams, who served as the museum’s public programs manager until February of this year. “I did not want to be responsible for programming a plantation installation,” she said in a phone conversation with Hyperallergic, calling the exhibition a “monument to white supremacy.” Williams says she spoke out against the institution, but her calls went unheeded.

    The open letter argues that the museum does not reflect the diversity of a majority-Black city like New Orleans (the city is nearly 60% Black, as of 2019). 

    “NOMA’s leadership includes only one full-time Black staff member in a pool of 20+ directors, curators, and other decision makers – and none in executive leadership,” the letter reads, adding that the museum did not employ any Black curators in its 100-year history until 2018, when Ndubuisi Ezeluomba was hired as curator of African art.

    In addition, less than 10% of NOMA’s nearly 50-member board is Black, according to the letter, with no Black individuals holding officer roles or serving as part of the museum’s 13-member executive committee.

    The authors of the letter also report that some Black staffers were asked to remove their dreadlocks. The also say that Black school groups, interns, and visitors were targeted and harassed by white staff while visiting NOMA, and that these concerns were repeatedly brought up in departmental meetings and reported to HR but were “buried or dismissed.”

    In a statement to Hyperallergic, NOMA declined to comment on the specific allegations in the letter but wrote, “Thoughtful discourse is fundamental to who we are as an institution and NOMA’s leadership understands and accepts the opportunities to engage in discussions about our role, scope and mission.”

    “We see that the views offered by our former employees could serve as a beginning point and an opportunity for meaningful dialogue,” the statement continues. “Some of these conversations have already begun, both internally with current staff and externally with our community.”

    The museum listed a number of group and solo exhibitions that showcased artists of color in the past few years (including an exhibition on the quilts of Gee’s Bend) but recognized that it’s “only the beginning” and pledged to do “our best to meet the expectations of our BIPOC and LGBTQ community members and to show our intentions through actions.”

    In the letter, the staffers write that in 2019, after repeated complaints to HR about incidents of racial and gender bias, NOMA held its first diversity training in years. As part of the training, the museum’s entire staff had to watch a clip of the satirical song “Everybody is a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway musical Avenue Q. The former workers say that the clip was delivered without context and left many workers feeling “further offended, discouraged, and targeted.”

    “I felt like the environment was toxic and I began to be targeted unfairly,” says Bamgbàlà Arẹ̀sà, another former NOMA worker who co-authored the open letter. “I was not paid a living wage but, during the summer, I was responsible for what should be broken down into two different jobs.” During her six months at the museum, she served as director of the summer camp program and the director of “Creative Careers.”

    In addition, Bamgbàlà Arẹ̀sà said that she was treated differently in the offices because she wore “Afrocentric” clothing and a head wrap. “I saw a difference in the way I was treated walking down the hallway once I started to come to work with my head covered,” she said.

    A third member of the group, Dr. fari nzinga, worked at NOMA from 2014 to 2016 as an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Public Fellow (her salary was externally paid).

    “During my time at NOMA, some staff looked at me with disdain and suspicion, I was given no budget whatsoever, and I was discouraged from forming meaningful connections with trustees,” she told Hyperallergic in an email, adding that she suffered from patronizing and hostile remarks by Taylor. “I voiced these concerns and was met with radio silence,” she said. “I remember her [Taylor’s] insistence that I not mention race, when discussing the founding of the museum, or other museums/museum-related organizations.”

    A spokesperson for NOMA declined to comment on the specific allegations made by Williams, Bamgbàlà Arẹ̀sà, and nzinga, citing “privacy restrictions.”

    In response to these grievances, the group demands that the museum stops “all forms of performative allyship, Black tokenism, and virtue signaling immediately.” They also demand a public apology from NOMA “to all Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) & LGBTQ former and current employees who have experienced discrimination and aggression at the institution,” as well as an apology to the New Orleans community for “failing to provide a safe space for visitors.”

    The former workers also demand the “immediate removal” of the NOMA’s top officials who they say “facilitated this toxic culture.” That includes Taylor, Banos, Dunn, and Facility Manager Steve Lewis.

    Other demands include hiring more Black curators and trustees, investigating former complaints to HR, and an independent investigation of the origins and history of ownership of all African and Indigenous objects in the museum’s collection.

    “This letter is an invitation to engage so that together we can help build the framework for real and necessary change at NOMA,” the workers write at the end of their letter. “We believe that this institution can begin to heal past wounds and authentically serve the New Orleans community.”

    06/25/2020 09:42 PM Pennsylvania Art School Asks Faculty to Keep Professional Affiliation Separate From Activism

    The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (photo by chrisinphilly5448 via Flickr)

    As demonstrations against racist violence continue, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is at the center of controversy for asking faculty not to affiliate with the school in their activism activities. A website launched today, changeatpafa.com, brings together five independently authored open letters of concern from PAFA alumni, undergraduate students, graduate students, post-baccalaureate students, and the school’s Alumni Council.

    Collectively, they express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement; condemn the school’s non-affiliation policies; and demand concrete actions, such as the immediate termination of PAFA CEO and President David Brigham. They also advocate for various measures to foment inclusivity, representation, and diversity in PAFA’s faculty and curricula.

    “PAFA has had many important artists of color pass through its doors; the school is not far from being a leader in diversity,” Eustace Mamba, a student who was involved in writing the undergraduate response, told Hyperallergic. “We just need an administration and board that admits their white privilege, and ushers in a new era.”

    Within two hours of the site going public, the letters garnered more than 300 signatures of support, including from notable alumni and community members including Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Ken Lum, and Didier William.

    “We assert that civic involvement is inseparable from institutional participation, whether as students, faculty, staff, or administration,” writes PAFA’s graduate student body. “Furthermore, the Black Lives Matter movement extends far beyond a political affiliation. This is a human rights crisis. PAFA’s inability to fully support this movement is reprehensible.”

    In early June, nine PAFA faculty signed an online petition addressed to Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council calling on city leaders to reinvest police funds into human services. Four days after the petition went live with nearly 3,000 signatures, PAFA vice president of human resources Lisa R. Biagas sent out a memo reminding staff to maintain their “civic involvement” activities, such as petitions and demonstrations, separate from their roles at the school.

    “As we all continue to participate in our democracy, I want to remind you that we do so as private, individual citizens, and that we do not represent ourselves by our PAFA affiliation or titles in these forums,” Biagas wrote in the email, which was shared with Hyperallergic.

    The administration’s directive prompted outrage and backlash from different factions of the PAFA community.

    Yikui (Coy) Gu, president of PAFA’s Alumni Association Council, penned an open letter to the Board of Trustees on the council’s behalf and then tendered his resignation, he told Hyperallergic. “We collectively and wholeheartedly reject your tone deaf and unacceptable stance to disassociate from Black Lives Matter. We believe that Black Lives Matter. Period,” he wrote.

    In an op-ed for the Inquirer, Samantha Mitchell, a Philadelphia-based artist, writer, and PAFA alum, said that while non-affiliation policies are not uncommon in private institutions, “enforcing one only after faculty express their support of BLM speaks to what — and who — PAFA considers a priority.”

    Two alumnae of the school, Melissa Joseph and Chelsea Nader, shared a statement with Hyperallergic titled “A letter to our (#toowhite) Alma mater.” In it they refer to the recent incident at PAFA as “the most blatant in a series of failed attempts to address institution-wide instances of racism, sexual misconduct, and inequitable working conditions,” and call for its current leadership to be replaced with “anti-racist, diverse leaders.”

    “By linking the school’s policy to ‘protect and preserve individual employees’ rights to hold and freely express mainstream as well as unpopular views’ with BLM, PAFA is essentially declaring institutionalized racism to be an ‘unpopular opinion’ rather than the human rights violation that it really is,” Joseph and Nader write.

    In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, PAFA shared a letter from Brigham that was sent today to faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

    “The last week has been a painful time of reflection for me.  I have thought of myself as a champion for diversity and inclusion, particularly by recognizing the achievements of artists of color and women artists, but recent press, emails, and social media posts demonstrate that I have fallen short of my own beliefs and PAFA’s stated Core Values of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” Brigham writes in his letter.

    The school’s president goes on to acknowledge the work of PAFA’s Belonging Task Force, which conducted a campus survey and developed a 29-point plan of recommendations. These include hiring a DEI coordinator and at least two full-time faculty members from communities of color and conducting an audit of the university museum’s permanent collection to identify works made by or owned by people associated with slavery or racism.

    “I am committed to the sweeping changes that must happen at PAFA and throughout our society to ensure that Black people have equal access to human rights, social justice, economic opportunity, education, housing, health, and human services,” Brigham says.

    But faculty and student distrust in the institution is deep-seated. Allegations that PAFA mishandled a 2016 incident of sexual assault, for example, are cited by members of the PAFA community as egregious examples of administrative failure. All the letters written by members of PAFA’s community call unwaveringly for Brigham’s resignation, and the alumni’s missive also asks Dean of Students Anne Stassen and Dean of the School Clint Jukkala to step down or undergo a “comprehensive review with possibility of termination.”

    “Not allowing the school and faculty to stand firmly in support of BLM is not only failing to recognize the civil rights of all humans, but it is actually leaning into the white supremacist ideologies. We went to this school, so we feel a responsibility to make clear that this is not what we stand for,” Joseph, who graduated from PAFA’s MFA program in 2018, told Hyperallergic.

    “My hope is that David resigns,” Nader added. “In doing that it will create room for the diversity that we are looking for to happen. The old guard is holding back the institution, and it’s sad to see. David is so stuck in his white privilege that he can’t even see how dangerous his statement was. Including BIPOC and other POC voices is key to the success of our society as a whole.”

    06/25/2020 08:14 PM A Block in Brooklyn Gets a Black Lives Matter Mural

    The mural stretches from New York and Brooklyn Avenues on Fulton Street in Brooklyn (photo by Linda Shell, used with permission)

    Encompassing a 565-foot-long stretch of Fulton Street between New York and Brooklyn Avenues in Brooklyn, a freshly-painted Black Lives Matter (BLM) mural is a sight to behold. The name of the movement at the heart of ongoing demonstrations against anti-Black violence and systemic racism is spelled in gargantuan yellow block letters, followed by over 150 names of victims of racist killings. Among them are George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, whose deaths catalyzed this year’s historic demonstrations; Rayshard Brooks, a recent victim of police brutality in a Wendy’s parking lot; and Riah Milton and Dominque “Rem’Mie” Fellstwo Black trans women.

    In a community effort led by the Billie Holiday Theater at Restoration Plaza and NYC Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., volunteers began painting the mural on Saturday, June 13. Among those present at the kick-off were filmmaker Spike Lee, Reverend Al Sharpton, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and state Attorney General Letitia James.

    An aerial view of the mural shows the names of Black victims of racist violence (photo by Linda Shell, used with permission)

    Billie Holiday Theater Director Dr. Indira Etwaroo conceived of the design, featuring rectangular yellow bars representing open caskets — a visual tribute to Mamie Till Bradley, who held an open casket funeral for Emmet Till, her Black son brutally murdered by two white men in the 1950s. Mamie Till’s decision to publicly display the violence waged on Emmet’s body inspired the Civil Rights Movement.

    The artists prominently spelled out George Floyd’s name. Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota outside of a convenience store. His death sparked protests across the city, which have since spread to all 5o states and internationally. (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

    “We join with other cities across the country and say that this is our open casket to the world — laying bare the senseless and continued killings of Black people. In order to heal and to move forward, we must address that the current systems in place are inadequate to ensure life and liberty for all people,” said Etwaroo in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “That is what this mural stands for here in Brooklyn, home to the largest African American community in the nation. The artists are speaking truth to power.”

    The street mural memorializes Philando Castille, who was killed by a police officer in Minnesota during a traffic stop (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

    Artist Cey Adams, who completed an American flag mural for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was the creative director behind the installation of the names, while artist Dawud West oversaw the painting of the “Black Lives Matter” portion of the mural. It resembles similar ones painted across the nation, notably in Washington, DC, where Mayor Muriel Bowser had “Black Lives Matter” painted on the street that leads to the White House days after President Trump ordered the National Guard to crack down on protesters in the city.

    Brooklyn’s version is in the historically Black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the birthplace of notable African American figures like Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.

    “As a person who has had a racial incident happen to me here in New York, this mural has given me hope, and so much peace in my heart to know that people are fighting for us,” Linda Shell, a resident of the neighborhood who was assisting in painting the mural, told Hyperallergic.

    A panoramic view of the street mural on Fulton Street (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

    Brooklyn’s mural got its finishing touches yesterday as similar works in other parts of the country are being defaced. In Florissant, Missouri, four people were photographed painting over the words “Black Lives Matter” with a blue line as local police stood by. Another street mural in Nyack, in upstate New York, was covered in skid marks after two motorcyclists rode through it on Saturday, prompting protests.

    “I hope that everyone who takes in these words and names comes away with renewed spirit, drawing strength from those whose protest and leadership came before. Let’s keep both parts of this incredible mural alive, the one emblazoned here on Fulton Street and the one we hold in our hearts and deeds going forward,” Cornegy said in the statement.

    Community volunteers touch up text on the mural on Wednesday (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

    The Black Lives Matter mural in Brooklyn is one of several planned for sites across the city’s five boroughs, including one that Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly plans to have painted outside Trump Tower in Manhattan. The mayor will also name a street after the movement in each borough.

    The Bed-Stuy mural was unveiled this past Sunday with a ceremony featuring performances by artists Carl Hancock Rux and Marcelle Lashley. More than 20 Brooklyn-based artists contributed to its production, including Aaron Simius, Afalau Muhammad, Aleathea Sapp Jimenez, Ali Rose Dachis, Antoinne Thomas, Apollonia Tikki, Ava Tomlinson, Cassandra Greene, Cey Adams, Dawud West, Dengil Belinle, Devon Shell, Diego Anaya, Donna Mason, Elton Leonard, Falisha Davis, Gloria Braxton, Imani Pringle, Jonanthan Weekes, Kahlil Jfantau, Larry Weekes, Maninga Pekason, Marcia Wilson, Marienne, Melvin Isau, Mercedes Ortega, Monique Carboni, Nicholas Love, Rashid F Dav, Richard Ramea, Samra Guenmdu, Stanley Lambert, Stephen Edwards, Tanda Francis, Tomas Hull, Tupell Beard, Valerie Williams, Wilma Ward, and Yuena Despagne.

    The NYC departments of Transportation, Sanitation, and Buildings provided support for the project, and paint was supplied by Benjamin Moore.

    The mural’s design, conceived by Billie Holiday Theater Director Dr. Indira Etwaroo, is a visual tribute to Mamie Till Bradley, who held an open casket funeral for Emmet Till, her Black son brutally murdered by two white men in the 1950s. (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

    06/25/2020 05:02 PM The Unapologetically Gay, Erotic Drawings of Soufiane Ababri

    Soufiane Ababri, Bedwork (2019-2020), color pencils on paper, 24 x 32 cm (all images courtesy the artist)

    Soufiane Ababri is a Moroccan artist. It is important to stress this point of origin, firstly because he has been wrongly mislabeled as a French-Moroccan artist, and secondly, because Ababri’s identity as a gay, North African immigrant man living in France and grappling with themes of colonialism and oppression is central to his work. “This gives me a way of seeing the world from an exclusionary position that doesn’t want to join the center,” Ababri told Hyperallergic over email. “And so I reject the rules of the center.” That French media or individuals, accidentally or not, refer to him as French is just one more darkly absurd way in which questions of cultural ownership proliferate in a post-colonial world.

    Soufiane Abari, from I Am Not Just a Faggot (2019-2020), color pencils on paper, 24 x 32 cm

    Born in Rabat but based in Paris for the last 14 years, Ababri’s work is both unapologetically gay and masculine, but does not couch itself in a purely Western interpretation of either identity. His primary medium is drawing, but has also worked with performance, film and sculpture, always scrutinizing preconceived notions of race, gender, and sexual identity. In his series I Am Not Just a Faggot, Ababri has reconstructed a sort of encyclopedic “family tree” of gay men in the artistic and intellectual milieu.

    Inspired by the literary work of Jean Genet, a leading figure in the French avant-garde theater, Ababri has reappropriated the word “faggot” from a slur “into beauty, into a song.” “I am not just a faggot”, each work proclaims, but one like Allen Ginsberg, Ricky Martin, Marlon Riggs, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Wentworth Miller, Xavier Dolan, Mark Bradford, Larry Kramer. The roots of his queer family tree run deep.

    Soufiane Ababri, Bedwork (2019-2020), color pencils on paper, 24 x 32 cm

    One of Ababri’s better known projects is Bedwork, a series of drawings made with colored pencils from his bed at home. One’s first thought of a bed is a place of relaxation and sleep, but in the face of COVID-19 and the lockdown in France, it also becomes a particularly useful place to situate one’s studio. But Ababri points out that the bed “can be a place of solitude and punishment, like in the prison environment, or a place of work for sex workers, and also a place of death, for the dead.”

    Bedwork primarily (but not exclusively) portrays men, together or alone: a Black man stands behind an American flag wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘BAD NEWS’; a man dressed in a superman costume reclines in a sensual pose in the middle of the street; a pair of Moroccan youth in sweatpants sit at a cafe, a favorite pastime, two posters behind them read “GOODBYE MOROCCO.” The works are alternately funny, melancholic, erotic, and political, but always observational and compassionate.

    Soufiane Ababri, Bedwork (2019-2020), color pencils on paper, 24 x 32 cm

    One of my favorite pieces in Bedworks depicts a couple of muscular, youthful Black and brown men engaged in a series of gymnastic sex moves, blissfully enjoying themselves. They fuck on the grass, nude save for a pair of white athletic socks. It contains such tender details — grass is already soft, and who keeps their socks on during sex? — that prod at the underlying desired fragility of masculinity and intimacy. With these gestures, Ababri is also referencing the colonial commodity of cotton and the impossibility of separating it from the legacies of enslavement and exploitation of Black and brown people.

    Growing up in Morocco, Ababri was confronted with a sense of “exacerbated masculinity…a masculinity that is responsible for a part of society’s misfortune but which strangely, I continue to desire from an unbearable eroticism.” One of his signature techniques is to paint the cheeks of these virile figures with rouge, as though they are blushing — whether “from shyness or pleasure, that’s not important,” he notes.

    Soufiane Ababri, Bedwork (2019-2020), color pencils on paper, 24 x 32 cm

    In early May, it was announced that dozens of Moroccan men had been outed by having their photos spread online. “The campaign of “outing” emerged in Morocco on April 13, when many individuals created fake accounts on same-sex dating applications and then circulated on social media photos of men who used those applications, captioning the photos with insults and threats against the men based on their perceived sexual orientation,” notes Human Rights Watch. The real results have been devastating, as men have been beaten, imprisoned, and kicked out of their homes.

    The treatment of gay men is central to Ababri’s work, but he does not refer exclusively to homophobia in North Africa. There is a terribly long legacy of brutality against North African men in Europe, gay or otherwise. “These are questions that I have been working [through] for years already … with regard to police violence against our community and the legacy of colonial eroticism in gay sexuality in France,” Ababri explains. In one recent drawing, two brown men are pinned against the hood of a police car by two blue-sleeved white hands. The men are looking at each other with a mix of resignation and defiance. Their cheeks are tinged pink, not out of shyness or pleasure this time, but burning with anger. If injustice were a color, it would be this blush.

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