What we see is political. Taking up space is resistance. Walking through the gallery space hung with pictures, museum-goers act out and internalise a version of history… what happens when this space is infiltrated by those history has sought to exclude? With Black Bodies, White Spaces: Invisibility and Hypervisibility we see the coming together of artists exploring the Black Body in painting and posit how doing so is a form of resistance.
Inspired in part by the pivotal 20th century text “Black Skin White Masks” by French philosopher Frantz Fanon, this exhibition explores how artists have critiqued navigated, and engaged with the complexity of constructed and produced Blackness.
The work in this show depicts a legacy of artists who have expanded the artistic language and public understanding of the role and function of ‘Black art’. From David Hammons’ body prints to Henry Taylor’s Guernica-style bandit scene, Mickalene Thomas’ defiant woman to JadéFadojutimi’s explorations of the body and gesture through abstraction, this exhibition extols the multiplicity of the body and the modes of representing Blackness through it. Nina Chanel Abney’s Playmobil colored activism coaxes us to question the ethics of authority and sanctioned violence, whilst Amy Sherald’s cotton-candy colored figures subvert the symbols of oppression in a powerful pastel reclamation. Barkley Hendricks celebrates Black culture and self-determination with his colorful dancing couple, whilst Toyin Ojih Odutola’s steady repertoire of figures seem braided from scintillating coarse silks, bringing her charcoal musings into more stark chromatic ranges to depict upper-class Nigerian families. Furthermore, Danielle McKinney and Jordan Casteel create introspective depictions of leisure and vulnerability. Blackness is so often aligned with strength and defiance, yet these artists remind us that softness and delicateness touches us all.
Black figuration is not a monolith. The exhibition purposefully incorporates an international perspective, unveiling the nuances of the Black British experience in Joy Labinjo’s powerful rendition of the British police system and how this intersects with race. Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s colourful beret-wearing youths and Amoako Boafo’s power blue suited gentlemen unveil Ghanaian’s colourful approach to fashion. They achieve this by representing the political use of style, subverting conventional notions of Blackness, maleness and how Black dandyism refutes a single construction of Black masculinity. The artists selected dismantle the function and purpose of art, refashioning it to create dynamic investigations that hold art and its pre-conceptions accountable and demand more from the medium and the viewer.
The exhibition is curated by Aindrea Emelife.