LookSEE is an online forum dedicated to the visual arts in Richmond,Virginia. We aim to inspire the art curious with a window into artistic process, work, and philosophy. Paige Goodpasture hosts the LookSEE podcast and is a freelance audio producer, an art lover, and a lifelong Richmonder. Her favorite place to be is in a museum. A close second is a bookstore.
Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop
In February of this year, a show, long in the making, of the work of a collective of black photographers in 1960s New York City called the Komoinge Workshop, had just opened with a joyful celebration at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. And then the world changed. We are living with a pandemic. Our city was a center of racial justice protests that roiled our country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. And now we are on the brink of a national election that will speak to how we see ourselves as a nation.
AND YET . . .
Kehinde Wiley’s statue, Rumors of War, stands on Arthur Ashe Boulevard. Commonwealth, an exhibition examining these very questions of who we are, how we define we the people, and how we can reimagine wealth and come together for the common good opened a few weeks ago at the ICA at VCU. Galleries around town are showing work that speaks to this moment, asks the hard questions, and holds up the mirror, as artists do. And at the VMFA, visitors can see the work of those 1960s black photographers, now through the lens of the events of the past six months.
Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, curator of the exhibition, joined me via Zoom to talk about the show.
The exhibition Great Force, currently on view at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, addresses the force of whiteness, the counter-force of black resistance, and the persistence of the color line in the United States. With new commissions and recent work by twenty-four artists, the exhibition presents painting, sculpture, photography, video, and performance that examine race in the United States. I had the opportunity to talk with the curator of Great Force, Amber Esseiva, about the show, its artists and works of art.
In Search of Other Mothers' Gardens, We Made Armor
For the exhibition In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, We Made Armor, artist and curator Mahari Chabwera creates a sanctuary site for Black womxn artists to honor their ancestors and honor and care for themselves, a safe place to make and show work, to be vulnerable, to be glorious, to heal, to grow, to dream. Mahari has gathered a group of 6 Black womxn artists who are each exploring the tension between protection and vulnerability, who are embracing the opportunity to be seen as artists in this cultural moment while also being thoughtful about what is seen and who will control those images. In this freedom-sharing, sanctuary-making exhibition, Mahari Chabwera shows that art as liberatory, magic medicine-making is a way to mend trauma and replace it with something that is rooted in freedom and an ethic of love.
Artist Cindy Neuschwander, who died in 2012, is known especially for her sensuous abstract encaustic paintings, but her artistic journey was diverse and varied. Early in her career, she focused on straight photography, using a large format box camera to produce modern images that explored issues of identity, vulnerability, relationship and isolation, among other things. Later Neuschwander experimented with where photography could take her in her exploration of these ideas. She painted and collaged over the images, marking and scratching the surface and sometimes even the negatives. The result was a body of work, made in the late 1980s, that draws the viewer in with color and directness while also keeping one out by obscuring and disguising the figures in the images beneath. This work is a wonderfully engaging moment of connection with Cindy as an emerging artist. Curators Jay Barrows, Emily Smith, and Park Myers, along with Angeline Robertson, drew on this extensive body of work to create an engaging exhibition that offers a glimpse into her early development as an artist.
Aimee Joyaux is an abundantly creative and endlessly curious artist who has her artist’s mind in lots of places. She is a painter, a photographer, and a performance artist. She is a printmaker and a teacher. Drawing plays a central role in her artistic practice. The renovated antebellum cotton warehouse in Petersburg, Virginia, that she and her husband Alain call home contains artistic multitudes, including a painting studio, a darkroom, a print and letterpress shop and Alain’s woodworking studio. In her work, Aimee uses color, language, iconography, and found materials to respond in a visceral way to current events and to examine their connections to the histories and mythologies that make up our cultural identities.
Contemporary art is often defined as the art of the now. The work of Martine Syms is of this very moment. Defining herself as a conceptual entrepreneur, she adopts any discipline, any distribution method, any formal strategies and models that respond to the shifting boundaries of culture and business. Regardless of the lens she is using, her work investigates how Blackness is circulated as an image. One of her main interests has been the entertainment industry, especially film. Black references are at the core of the movies - black gestures, movement, language style, and fashion all essentially shape what we see on the screen. Through her work Syms pushes us to see that more clearly.
With her installation at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, Martine Syms moves into examining technology, specifically artificial intelligence and social media. In this space, unlike entertainment, there is very little, if any, reference to Blackness. The third “release” of what Syms refers to as a research project, Shame Space asks what Blackness and Black femininity might look like in this space. Amber Esseiva, assistant curator at the ICA, talks about Martine Syms and this paradigm-shifting installation that happily raises many more questions than it answers.