Thursday, 6 September - Saturday, 22 December 2012
Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art - Newark, NJ:
Blanka Amezkua, Edgar Arceneaux, Kevin Darmanie, Kurt Forman, Chitra Ganesh, Fay Ku, Shaun El C. Leonardo, Kerry James Marshall, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Dulce Pinzón, William Pope.L, Robert Pruitt, Xaviera Simmons, Saya Woolfalk
Curated by Jorge Rojas
Co-curated by David Hawkins
Over the course of history, speculative art has taken a number of shapes, from classic Greek myths to graphic novels, from sci-fi literature to film. The fantastic qualities of this work have made it extraordinarily popular among audiences, but it also has provided artists with an important means for exploring serious cultural issues. This exhibition features artists who pull freely from speculative models, working in various mediums to help shape modern hybrid styles and bring new audiences into the conversation.
The innovative and influential artist Kerry James Marshall incorporates comic book themes and style as well as African art in his “Rythm Mastr” series. In William Pope.L’s video The Great White Way, the artist appears in a superman suit crawling the 22-mile stretch of Broadway, raising questions about the great white superhero. Chitra Ganesh blends fantastic elements from Greek myth, comic books, and classic Hindu and Buddhist folklore. And Edgar Arcenaux collaborates with Kurt Forman in the production of Hulk Alter You!, a filmic mashup exploring how Hollywood transforms evolutionary science into entertainment.
Other artists have tackled similar themes. Shaun El C. Leonardo has turned to the iconic imagery of superheroes and professional wrestlers to explore masculinity and male stereotypes. Dulce Pinzón’s photographs of migrant laborers costumed as American comic book idols challenge the negative public perception of Hispanic immigration. In her dreamlike video, Empathetic Plant Alchemy, Saya Woolfalk draws on the whimsical realm of “No Place” to explore ritual, identity, and community. And Kevin Darmanie’s vibrant and playful works in comic format touch on topics from sexuality to gentrification, while Blanka Amezkua’s work blends the goddesses of ancient myth with the depictions of women in Mexican adult comics, challenging traditional conceptions of female power.
Fairytales and folklore are also important sources of inspiration for many of these artists. In her photograph Untitled (Pink), Xaviera Simmons invokes fables in which the heroine must face mysterious monsters in an untamed wild. Taiwanese-born artist Fay Ku uses elements from Chinese folktales and myths, provoking questions about childhood and assimilation. Other artists examine equally intimate topics, grappling with issues of race or mixed culture in a way that reflects a personal engagement. Robert Pruitt's animated video Black Stuntman references comics and hip-hop while his drawing, Be of our Space World, uses comic books and architecture to explore his own thinking about race. And Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz’s graphic-novel-inspired series, “Wepa Woman”, centers on a Puerto Rican heroine who faces sexual violence in an impoverished urban landscape.
Combining the mythical and fantastic, these artists compel audiences to look beyond contemporary notions of race, gender, sexuality, cultural rituals, and even art itself. Like the half-human subjects that have inspired them, these new speculative art forms may well point the way to the future of art and culture, stepping across the threshold as either an invitation or a warning. They resist easy categories, thwart the boundaries between high and low, and present a new vision of a shared superhuman experience.
Exhibition catalog - available for purchase at Aljira.
superHUMAN originated at and is sponsored in part by Central Utah Art Center (CUAC).
William Pope.L, The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (Whitney version #2), 2001. Video, 6:35 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash. Photo: Lydia Grey