Prospect.4 officially kicked off Saturday, November 18 and the roster of international artists in the city-wide triennial is chock full of familiar and new talent whose work I’ve long admired. I was able to get a digital copy of the event’s catalog and after sampling the work from some of the artists chosen for the show, I see a rich curatorial story unfolding in “The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp”. New Orleans isn’t simply a host city, it’s the show’s muse. Using NOLA’s history and cultural aesthetic, many of the artists in P.4 have created site-specific work that captures the beauty found at the intersection of destruction, erasure, growth, and survival. These artists use storytelling as a device to examine long-held ideals we accept as truth when they are actually rooted in fiction. Among the handful of Los Angeles artists in the show, there are a few that have used counternarratives to challenge those long-held beliefs.
Gaignard traverses the space between poles (north and south, black and white, past and present) where lines that we draw in the sand are murky and stories are left untold. Using New Orleans as her backdrop, Gaignard has created a tableau of new characters that challenge our interpretation of history. In The Rise and Fall (Take ‘Em Down), Gaignard creates 2 characters, each representing their own version of America, sitting atop the empty remains of a confederate monument. Gaignard’s new series of portraits are once again in conversation with figurines and mixed media within one of her iconic, immersive installations inside the Ace Hotel Gallery.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s work is also rooted in the space between two worlds, in Crosby’s case the worlds are expressed through the artist’s experiences in the U.S. and her Nigerian roots. I’d really love to see her collage work alongside the collages created by New Orleans’ native Louis Armstrong. The famed trumpeter used his art as a storytelling device to specifically control his own narrative. Many did not know about his passion for art until after his death in 1971, so these works are not only a time capsule of the jazz age, but also an autobiography of the musician.
The audiophile in me wants to experience Muller’s work which is informed by music that serves as social signposts. Muller combines murals and mixed media installations, and his contribution to P.4 is also an homage to Louisiana native Fats Domino, who recently passed away on October 24th.
Looking at Gleaton’s photography, I am puzzled that Getty organizers lacked the temerity to feature him in PST LA/LA. I’m glad that P.4 organizers did. Gleaton was formerly a fashion photographer who became frustrated with the lack of representation of people of color in popular culture and the mainstream press. He turned his photographic lens to portraiture in “search for the other; people and lives that are on the margins.” His work creates little-known narratives of Black Cowboys and rodeo participants in the south as well as his landmark work featuring Black Mexicans who have been hidden in the margins as casualties of “color, caste, and class”. His work is not photo-journalistic, rather Gleaton uses these stories to reframe the way Black Mexicans view themselves.
“What you see helps visually shape the way you deal with the world”. ~Tony Gleaton
His work is also semi-autobiographical; the narratives he creates are in dialog with his younger self, struggling to define who he is a world determined to define him through a limiting lens.
Also inspired by underrepresented communities found on the fringes of our limited scope, Kahlil Joseph upends popular notions of who cowboys should be. Joseph’s video installation called Wildcat takes the viewer into a community of black cowboys in Grayson, OK, for an annual Rodeo held by the Celestine family. As a frayed American flag slowly blows in the sky floating alongside a somber, melodic musical score by Flying Lotus, Kahlil Joseph unravels Hollywood-ized depictions of cowboys that history has cultivated over time; in its place, he presents a rich, complicated cowboy culture that fuses black life with rancher life. As artist Tony Gleaton explained, “Black and Native American cowboys don’t fit the John Wayne image, so history and the mythic tales of the American West never included them.” In this video, Kahlil Joseph recreates those mythic tales through his trademark visuals that create intimate portraits within vast, lush landscapes. The video is a stunner that reminds us how important it is to see ourselves in images. Kiluanji Kia Henda, another featured P.4 artist refers to this process as “transcending fiction”. By offering the viewer counternarratives that challenge our fictionalized ideals, new social mores emerge.
Wildcat from WHAT MATTERS MOST on Vimeo.
Sources and Additional Reading:
“Artist a Day: Genevieve Gaignard”, Colony Little, Culture Shock Art, February 2017
“Louis Armstrong, the Artist”, The Guardian, September 2008
Africa’s Legacy in Mexico: Tony Gleaton, LMU/LA, 2007
“Black Cowboys, Busting One of America’s Defining Myths”, The New Yorker, Jan 2017