REVIEW – Please Stand By: The 2021 Stamps School Senior Exhibition

Please Stand By: The 2021 Stamps School Senior Exhibition is a virtual showcase that highlights the work created by the graduating students of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. As a featured artist myself, I can personally claim that the creative process has been immensely complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, evidenced by the impressive display, the unprecedented conditions we’ve experienced together this past year have not prevented our collective perseverance and the creation of astonishing projects! Even though it is saddening that most senior studios went unused, I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow classmates for advancing their practice and fostering immense creative and professional development through their studies. Congratulations! 

That being said, if you haven’t checked out the exhibition, you should definitely give it a look! Here is the webpage: https://www.stampsgrads.org/classof2021/senior-exhibition/. Ironically, even though everything is digital, we have amassed a lengthy selection of books. In Between: este lado y el otro lado by Olivia Prado, a multidisciplinary artist, is a book that resists preconceptions of Mexican-American identity through the juxtaposition of poetry, drawing and painting, photography, and text messages with family members. Prado intentionally creates a multi-faceted narrative that contends with expectations for artists of color to reduce personal experiences to simplified concepts for white viewership and consumption. By offering a variety of rich and formative experiences, Prado opens a space for people to better understand, yet not entirely, the complexities of personhood as it relates to the communities we are a part of.

Additionally, because the website format allows for each artist to upload up to ten documentation photographs, the display configurations of more sculptural works are highly mutable. This is applicable to the Parasitic Vessels: Forms of Disuse series created by recent-graduate Ellie Levy. Levy is particularly interested in the introduction of invasive protrusions and modifications to bowls as a question and critique to the utilitarian nature of ceramic design. Although, with this mutation comes a supplemental and beneficial quality to the human interaction with an object. How do we perceive the bowls differently? As the material body of the bowls are mutated, a fused identity is created through a balance that allows for new existence. The parasite becomes a catalyst for the imaginative.

These are two of the many amazing and captivating works in the exhibition, which will remain permanently in the digital space. I encourage you all to explore what we have created!

 

Artist Information:

Olivia Prado – Website: https://odprado.wixsite.com/oliviapradoart

Ellie Levy – Website: https://ellielevyceramics.com; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erlceramics/

REVIEW – “Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test” at Red Bull Arts Detroit

Akeem Smith’s No Gyal Can Test exhibition at Red Bull Arts Detroit transgresses disciplinary classifications and the expectancy for a singular ethnographic history of dancehall, which is readily accessible to a globalized audience eager to exploit its cultural legacy.

In Jamaica, upper-class families grill their home to deter robberies of their houses. Smith utilizes these grills to protect the archival dancehall photographic and film footage behind, which ranges the two decades between the 80s and 2000s. Protruding from the flat walls of the building’s underground tombs, these decorative homes symbolize the artist’s attitude toward a global viewership that commodifies the hypervisible women of the movement. The voyeurim of the gallery visitor questions the assumed invitation to peer through cast iron metal shields. What is offered and what is withheld? On the other hand, their installation can also be perceived in relation to wealthy Jamaicans’ refusal to accept the cultural and political revolution of dancehall as a national signifier. Viewers are meant to question their position within, or outside of, the household in order to better understand what is deserving of safeguarding.

In these and other wall works, photographs and videos are intentionally obscured, offering a limited visual scope to the memories they document. Queens Street, an assembled building with an exposed interior,  encases a single-channel video that plays abstracted and slowed-down footage of a dance. Because there is a gap between the welded metal doorway attached to the front of the house and the leftmost edge of the adjacent window, viewers are situated awkwardly outside this personal space peering indoors. The portrait included in Black Queen, a minimal and rectangular wall work made with salvaged, black building remnants, is hidden from view behind an top section of latticework. The woman’s face is almost entirely encased in its shadow.

Curated by Maxwell Wolf and Kenta Murakami, this unique expression of love culminates the preceding twelve years of archival work and outreach to honor the legacy of the dancehall community Smith grew up around in Kingston, Jamaica. Born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in the Waterhouse District in Kingston before returning to Crown Heights, Smith is the godson of Paula Ouch, the founder of the Ouch fashion house, an all women’s team that shaped the visual loudness of the era. Several of their garments on view are draped on mannequins sculpted by collaborative artist Jessi Reaves that commemorate the women of his youth and particularly Sandra Lee, the central fashion and hair stylist. Jewelry by Brando, his grandmother’s former partner, is juxtaposed alongside these original pieces. The interwoven nature of his life is further solidified through his grandma, who raised him alongside his mom, and co-owned La Roose club in Portmore, a coastal city that borders Kingston. Materials – corrugated zinc, tarp, repurposed wood, and breeze – from the building’s facade, as well as other disused social spaces, make up the main components of Smith’s deeply-personal installations.

While Smith’s process implements specific protocols to procure and ethically compensate Jamaicans who provided him with the exhibition material, the extension of these guidelines within the gallery are ultimately left to the discretion of the visitor. What is implicated through the exhibition’s free admission and allowance of photography that facilitates a capturing of images among visitors?

Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test is on view at Red Bull Arts Detroit in Eastern Market every Friday – Sunday from 12 pm – 7 pm until July 30. Reservations are required. Appointments to see the Soursop offsite installation at Woods Cathedral in Detroit can also be made using the same webpage: https://ngct.redbullarts.com

 

Artist Information:

Akeem Smith – Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/akeemouch/

PREVIEW – Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test at Red Bull Arts Detroit

Installation View of Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test at Red Bull Arts New York 2020. Photo by Daro Lasagni. All artwork courtesy the artist and Red Bull Arts

Red Bull Arts Detroit is hosting the second iteration of Akeem Smith’s traveling exhibition, No Gyal Can Test. This show, which premiered on April 16 and runs until July 30, explores the dancehall community in Kingston, Jamaica. Through collaborative sonic-sculptures that four-dimensionally collage ephemera – photographs, videos, garments and jewelery, along with architectural materials sourced from musical congregation sites now existing through public memory – Smith transports a display of togetherness resonant today in the ever-evolving and globalized community. Because Detroit’s cityscape reveals prevalent musical archives encoded within architectural fragments of former music and dance spots, I’m excited to see and hear how Smith’s exhibition is intimately recontextualized within a local arts space.

REVIEW – 2021 Graduate Degree Exhibition of Cranbrook Academy of Art

2021 Graduate Degree Exhibition. Photo- Katie McGowan

The 2021 Graduate Degree Exhibition of Cranbrook Academy of Art at the Cranbrook Art Museum offers a straddling of separate spheres across time and space as it relates to memory, the physical and digital body, and disciplinary categorizations. The exhibition features a wide range of work across concentrations. Among those defined below are architecture, fibers, and photography. While the highlighted artists are classified by their majors, much of the displayed work transcends limitations imposed by the mediums’ historical working methods and perceptions. This feature is highlighted in And that’s on who? Mary had a little lamb., the tufted rug of Qualeasha Wood, a student of the Photography department “embracing her role as a young hot ebony on the internet,” a phrase that begins her artist statement. In this wall hanging depicting a sunny day, a blackened silhouette of a woman holding a red pair of scissors is positioned in the foreground in front of a lamb. It can be assumed that she is going to shear its fleece as “white as snow;” however, this vision and that of implied race is never truly offered to the viewers. With photography technologically rendering images of the body within rectangular space, Wood physically and metaphorically rejects this contained geometry of the black body within the landscape to offer and reject consumptive access among viewers.

In Chickpea Landscapes, an illuminated wall-based sculpture of Jessy Slim, an Architecture student, Slim attaches clay she prepares with garbanzo beans, a food staple native to the Middle East, to backing fabric. Held up in areas with stakes, the cloth undulates and protrudes to form a mountainous topography that cracks like rock fissures peeling from its foundation. It is through these material explorations, and physical transformations, that Slim interrogates how immigration from Lebanon has displaced and reconstructed her memories tied to home. Physical recollections being kneaded only to flake from the landscape and crack, asking to be tended to with hands bearing witness to past views and meals eaten. This position of the in-between, a journey on the traffic-ridden freeway, is also highlighted in Same Road Different Day, a circular embroidered wall piece by Fibers student Kaylie Kaitschuck. Surrounded by hot wheels driving single file down the dotted line yarn roadway is a landscape to get lost in. Butterflies flap their wings; snakes slither toward burning bushes that flowers emerge from; goldfish swim in a pond surrounding by a checkerboard path with a swerving car; lightning strikes; the sun strikes a smile; a series of frowning faces ascend a yellow ladder to happiness; airplanes and sharpened, levitating pencils fly; hands reach for clouds at the end of the rainbow which tell you to “DREAM BIG.” What time is it? The pink band watch doesn’t work; instead its clock face is a portal. Am I spiraling? Is this a spiral? Where and when am I being transported? The road goes in circles, and I’m still stuck in traffic.

Yikes.

I think I’ll get off the freeway at the nearest exit and make the trip back to Cranbrook before the end of the week, after which the work is deinstalled.

 

Artist Information:

Qualeasha Wood – Website: https://qualeasha.com; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/qualeasha/

Jessy Slim – Website: https://www.slim-studio.com; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_actuallyslim/

Kaylie Kaitschuck – Website: https://kayliekaitschuck.com; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kayliekaitschuck/

 

 

REVIEW: Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism

Although it might be tempting, or even the norm, for arts institutions to uphold the veils that American and European art so often hold just for the sake of fitting aesthetics, the Unsettling Histories exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art does just the opposite. Assistant curator Ozi Uduma has put together a remarkable collection of works that spark discussion- who is shaping the narrative, and what messages are they explicitly or subconsciously trying to portray?

When I first entered the gallery space, the exhibit seemed fairly conventional, with portraits lining the walls and several works occupying the floor space. The real impact of the exhibit stems from the descriptions alongside each work, each deliberately including the harsh realities faced by marginalized communities at the time, and forcing the viewer to reconsider the way they take in the work.

One such example is the oil painting Mount Hood from The Dalles by John Mix Stanley. From afar, I saw a simple idyllic landscape scene, which turned out to be not so innocent after all. The caption acknowledged how the stereotypes used in many of Stanley’s paintings played a role in encouraging removal of Indigenous communities to promote Western expansion. I remember feeling taken aback after reading the description and surprised that the painting could do so much harm, which just goes to show how effective the exhibit was in revealing the darker side of such works and the ways in which narratives can be exploited for harm.

 

The entire collection was created in response to a work new to the museum, Flay (James Madison) by Titus Kaphar, which held the central position in the room, rightfully. To me, this work was the most impactful because it directly addressed the hypocrisy of America’s Founding Fathers in their mission to fight for freedom while they simultaneously owned slaves. The portrait of James Madison is cut into strips at the bottom, a reference to his position as a slave owner. Although I knew of the dark history of most of America’s founders, seeing it explicitly conveyed in a visual manner served as a powerful reminder about the truth of America’s history. This exhibition was an intense and compelling experience that I would highly recommend, and I feel like I walked away with a greater appreciation of the power of art and how it has been used to harm others in the past.

REVIEW: Radical Acts: A conversation with Sheryl Oring and Sherrill Roland

While perhaps not as informative about their collaborative work as I had hoped, this discussion provided some valuable background and behind the scenes information on Oring and Roland’s individual projects.

Roland was more reserved in talking about The Jumpsuit Project than Oring about I Wish To Say, not surprising given the length of time Oring has spent developing and connecting with her work, which has required a different kind of personal conversation to its audience members. As Roland reflected, in-person commentary to his work has mostly involved either an effort to shape the design of the project (campus and local police, university faculty, professors) or a rather momentary response (students commenting on it while studying at the library, passersby snapping a quick photo). Starting as a thesis project for his MFA, it makes sense: he faced pressures to appeal to a great deal of people, or if not to appeal, then to specifically give a message to many, all at once. There were his thesis advisors, people on the street, people on his campus, the institution that had held him despite his innocence, the entire country’s network of incarceration and justice systems.

While also incredibly impactful, Oring’s project has something to say rather than something to prove. That’s an oversimplified statement, but it compares the current evolutionary state of the two projects in broad terms. Oring, in contrast, speaks to her audience one-on-one as well as peripheral members of her audience (observers by the typewriter stations, people reading about her work online), making space for the content of their letters in an overwhelmingly impersonal world. In the nearly two decades since she began the project (as well as her previous years as a journalist), she has honed her ability to speak simultaneously to an individual subject (an interviewee) and a wider audience (readers).

Both styles of performance art serve a purpose within the political moments in which they exist: Roland seeks to expose widespread flaws in the criminal justice system through bringing his own experience to many in a particularly conspicuous way, contrasting how systemic injustice is often kept away from the public eye. These systems are represented as old, unchangeable institutions central to the function of our society, despite the reality that prisons are an industry, a pipeline, a cyclical system with rehabilitation far from a main focus. Oring, by working one-and-one and over a long period, has allowed citizens to individually be vocal. It’s especially important as polarization and whipsawing between recent presidential administrations causes significant frustration and disillusionment amongst the public.

Future events put on by the Stamps Gallery can be found here, including episodes of the Penny Stamps speaker series and other talks with artists. There are also some upcoming gallery exhibitions as MFA students showcase their theses; do note that entrance into the gallery requires an Mcard.