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A new “fantastic” show celebrates the black diaspora with myth and magic


Emi Eleode

Installation view of Nick Cave’s works in “In the Black Fantastic” at the Hayward Gallery, 2022. Photo by Zeinab Batchelor. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery.

In the Hayward Gallery exhibition “In the Black Fantastic”, Nick Cave’s newly commissioned powerful installation takes center stage. The piece, entitled Chain reaction, has hundreds of arms in black plaster, in the shape of those of the artist, joined together like chains. The hands grasp as if trying to lift each other up. The installation touches on one of the main themes of the exhibition: the legacy of slavery and colonialism.

Curated by Ekow Eshun, the exhibition features works by 11 artists: Nick Cave, Hew Locke, Kara Walker, Lina Iris Viktor, Chris Ofili, Rashaad Newsome, Wangechi Mutu, Sedrick Chisom, Cauleen Smith, Tabita Rezaire and Ellen Gallagher. This is the UK’s first major presentation devoted to the work of black artists across the diaspora who use spirituality, myth, science fiction and afrofuturism to suggest utopian possibilities.

View of the installation of Rashaad Newsome’s works in “In the Black Fantastic” at the Hayward Gallery, 2022. Photo by Zeinab Batchelor. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery.

The show also reflects the challenges in our contemporary world by addressing racial injustice and identity issues. “In the Black Fantastic” starts from a West-centered perspective to explore the autonomy and experience of blacks.

Eshun has cleverly divided the exhibition into separate rooms so that each artist exhibits within their own space; this makes it easier for the viewer to appreciate individual performers, then analyze the cumulative power of the show as a whole.

The fabrics are in the foreground. Some artists use diamanté (jewel decoration) and Swarovski crystals sparkle in Rashaad Newsome’s work. The multimedia pieces alternately feature wood, faux fur, beads, gold leaf and sequins. These exuberant materials add a sense of vibrant diversity to the show, which also includes painting, sculpture, video, multimedia installations and photography.

Nick Cave, installation view by Sound suit, 2010, in “In the Black Fantastic” at the Hayward Gallery, 2022. Photo by Zeinab Batchelor. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery.

Nick Cave, Sound suit, 2014. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

In addition to showing Chain reaction, Nick Cave also exhibits his famous colored and bejeweled “sound suits”, which he creates with fabrics, embroidery, raffia, sequins, beads and more. One features a West African disguise look; he looks like a masked dancer with an elongated neck. Another includes stacks of knitted fabrics. Still another appears to come from the realm of science fiction, given its similarities to a suit that could be worn in space. Each Soundsuit is wearable and full size.

Cave began making these costumes 30 years ago in response to Rodney King’s brutal beating by LAPD officers, which sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The artist views Soundsuits as body disguises and forms. of armor that offer protection in a racialized society. Cave also made a new sound suit commemorating the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. Despite their tragic inspirations, the works embrace ambiguity. They hide the identity, race and gender of the wearer with exuberant adornments.

Wangechi Mutu, still from The end of eating everything, 2014. Courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery and Victoria Miro. Commissioned by Duke University Nasher Museum of Art.

Wangechi Mutu thinks about the body differently. Eshun has published quotes from famous thinkers around the exhibition, and Suzanne Césaire fits perfectly with Mutu’s work: “Here is the poet, the painter and the artist who preside over the metamorphoses and inversions of the world under the sign of hallucination. and madness “. During her installation, the Kenyan artist paints the human body in mythical spaces and considers divine femininity.

His collage The Howler Island Dreamerfor example, references nguva, or women of the water, and the story of a female spirit that wanders along the coast. The spirit appears to be a normal human being, until he charms people in the sea and drowns them. The piece evokes a surreal and satirical children’s storybook. “In the Black Fantastic” also contains a video by Mutu and additional collages that combine magazine clippings with natural materials such as shells, horns and clay from the artist’s travels.

Lina Iris Victor, Eleventh2018. Courtesy of the artist and Hayward Gallery.

Hew Locke, Ambassador 1, 2021. © Hew Locke. Photo by Anna Arca. Courtesy of the artist and the Hayward Gallery.

Through his colorful and mythical paintings, Chris Ofili reconsiders a marine spirit of a different tradition: the artist illustrated a scene from Homer Odyssey, in which Ulysses meets the island nymph Calypso. Ofili was inspired by the poet of San Luciano Derek Walcott, whose poem “Omeros” used characters of the Odyssey analyze the harmful legacy of colonialism. Ophili’s depictions of supernatural underwater creatures introduce viewers to a magical version of the high seas.

British Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor also transports viewers to a different place and time, though her favorite vehicles are bold multimedia works. About her His series of self-portraits in blue, black and white, entitled “A Haven. A hell. A Dream Deferred, ”they are powerful. One of them, titled Eleventh, depicts the seated royal artist, dressed in beautiful African fabrics. Intricate golden lines map out, while partial texts that stretch across the surface, such as “The Tribes Covered in the Report,” offer suggestive narratives. Viktor also paints the Libyan Sibyl, a prophetess of ancient Greek mythology whom 18th-century abolitionists considered a leading figure who foresaw the “terrible fate” of enslaved Africans. Viktor questions the role of Western altruism in the Republic of Liberia after the abolition of slavery; a colonial legacy still haunts the country.

Installation view of Hew Locke’s works in “In the Black Fantastic” at the Hayward Gallery, 2022. Photo by Rob Harris. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery.

Hew Locke uses sculptures to consider such legacies. The series of pieces of him, entitled “The Ambassadors”, resemble the horsemen of the apocalypse with their menacing positions. The artist lavishly adorned his approximations of knights in fabric, beads and other jewelry, then surrounded them with ornate skulls. “Ambassadors” challenge the way we see historical figures: the artist has graced his four horsemen with military medals and insignia, representing the heavy hand of colonialism.

A sense of doom also pervades Sedrick Chisom’s dream paintings. They feature characters who look deathly ill, suggesting a post-apocalyptic future in which all black people have chosen to leave Earth, and the rest of humanity has been plagued by a fictitious disease called “revitiligo,” which darkens the pigment of the Earth. skin.

Sedrick Chisom, Medusa wandered through the wetlands of the capital citadel undisturbed by two confederate wanderers worried by the poisonous vapors stirring in the night air, 2021. © Sedrick Chisom. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias.

Kara Walker, on the other hand, delves into America’s bloodthirsty and racist past through her cut-paper animations. Her violent and provocative argument will haunt viewers long after they leave the show. Walker’s movie Prince McVeigh and Turner’s Curses (2021) portrays two crimes of white supremacists: in 1988, three white men in Texas killed James Byrd by dragging him to death from behind a pickup truck and in 1995 Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The references of the title of the project Turner’s diaries by neo-Nazi leader William Luther Pierce, a racist novel that would have inspired McVeigh and other attacks by white supremacists, including the recent January 6, 2021 assault on the United States Capitol. Like Chisom, Walker confronts the parasitic ideology of whiteness and the “otherness” of blacks.

Rashaad Newsome’s work seems more futuristic, even as it reflects on today’s chaos; Build or destroy, his movie on the show, might remind the viewer of the “that’s okay” meme. The video shows a trendy, trans CGI character dancing amid fires and collapsing buildings. By sampling and reconfiguring images relating to traditional African sculpture, the Black Queer community and pop culture, Newsome hopes his work will help break free from oppressive systems.

Installation view of Cauleen Smith’s works in “In the Black Fantastic” at the Hayward Gallery, 2022. Photo by Zeinab Batchelor. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery.

Cauleen Smith uses digital systems with very different effects. His immersive installation features a table decorated with small sculptures, a bird, plants and computer screens projecting images of changing natural landscapes and enlarged digital versions of the sculptures on the gallery walls. The artist has a personal connection with every object on the table. She describes the assortment as an “archive of associations, travels, affections, wishes, questions and wishes”. Smith addresses themes of afrofuturism, utopian possibilities and community.

To conclude the exhibition, the fascinating painting by Ellen Gallagher Ecstatic draft of fish depicts an underwater kingdom. The scene takes inspiration from the story of a Black Atlantis known as Drexciya, a place populated by the descendants of abducted and enslaved pregnant women who were thrown overboard on transatlantic ships. The myth of Drexciya was created by the Detroit electronic music duo of the same name, who were in part inspired by Paul Gilroy’s 1993 book The black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness. Throughout Gallagher’s painting, a brown amoeba with pink, orange, and dark purple circles is part of an underwater scene. Silver figures reminiscent of African sculptures float in the sea.

Collectively, these artists offer new ways of seeing and challenging the idea of ​​race as a social construct. In their own way, they reimagine the possibilities for blacks around the world.

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