Art Insider: Shrines honor the diversity of Black experiences

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Shrines celebrate Black individuality, newspaper clippings highlight the complexity of the Black experience, and eerie lullabies stir memory and loneliness.  

“Installation #000000” at Track 16

Rakeem Cunningham, “Installation #000000 Series, #14,” 2014. Archival pigment print. Edition of 2. 24 x 36 inches.  Image
courtesy of Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles.

In a two-person show at Track 16 in the Bendix Building downtown, Rakeem Cunningham and Clifford Prince King have each created photographic shrines that are poignant odes to Black individuality. 

King’s shrine, titled “In Memory Of,” is a photographic collage of black and white Xerox prints that are wheat-pasted directly to the wall. The work includes photographs of Black individuals who have been victims of police brutality: George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, Elijah McClain, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and others. 

Poetically, these images occupy the same space as photographs of figures who pose with modelesque musculature — these strong limbs are interwoven as pillars of vulnerability and strength. A single gold candle placed on the floor brings the black and white images into physicalized space, snapping the grainy grayscale images into the urgency of the present. 

Cunningham’s alter takes a much more maximalist approach and is an amalgam of rainbow-hued props, printed photographs, anime characters, and household objects. 

The shrine includes objects such as swaths of crunchy gold fabric, rainbow piñatas, bubblegum pink hair extensions, and yellow rubber gloves that have been used as props throughout Cunningham’s photographic work. Often, his photographs feature the artist himself, nude and unabashedly striking poses culled from fashion photoshoots. Here, these celebratory images mix with others that take a more violent and vulnerable turn — several picture a figure’s head wrapped in iridescent plastic. 

Taken as a whole, Cunningham and King each represent the multitudinous Black experience, and how it is reflected in culture and media at large. In the press release, Cunningham asks, “How do we own the components that make us individuals and own the means of representation of ourselves?” 

“#000000 is the hex code for black”

Rakeem Cunningham, “Installation #000000,” 2020. Photographs, collages, fabric, and mixed media. Image
courtesy of Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles.

Rakeem Cunningham explained to me that the title of the exhibition, “Installation #000000,” was named after the computer hex code for the color black. “So out loud, it’s pronounced installation black,” he explained. “We liked that on the hex chart, black is at the top left because black is the presence of all colors. So we thought #000000 was a fitting title to reflect and compare the fact black is comprised of so many different colors, and our lives are filled with so many different parts.” 

“Clifford and I wanted to make an exhibition that encompassed the fullness of being Black and queer in America. Oftentimes it feels like Blackness is only talked about in relation to oppression. But we wanted to make shrines and works that acknowledged the hurt, honors those we’ve lost, but to also show the rich diversity that Blackness encompasses. The installation is celebratory in some parts and depressing in others. Because Black lives are full, complex, contradictory, exciting, heartbreaking, and wild ... just like everyone else’s life is. And we wanted to make an exhibition that honored the full humanity of Black life.”

Check out a VR walkthrough of the exhibition.

On view: August 1 – September 5, 2020

Senga Nengudi at Sprüth Magers 

Senga Nengudi, “Bulemia” (1988/2018). Installation view, Sprüth Magers, London, June 7–July 13, 2019. © Senga Nengudi. Image courtesy Sprüth Magers and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York. Photo by Voytek Ketz.

Opening at Sprüth Magers today is a solo exhibition of Senga Nengudi, which includes two large scale installation works. Nengudi is known for her performance and dance alongside her infamous “R.S.V.P.” sculpture series, which includes nylon stockings filled with sand and displayed in ways that evoke an abstract human form. Refreshingly, this exhibition highlights two lesser-known installations: “Bulemia” (1988/2018) and “Sandmining” (2018). 

For “Bulemia,” a  room plastered wall-to-wall with newspaper clippings, Nengudi culled pages from her mother’s newspaper collection featuring notable events relating to Black individuals. In the installation, at the top of each wall, the pages are laid out flat, though as they descend the room, they become flayed out in voluminous layers, leading to a row of tightly compressed balls that line the floor. 

Nengudi uses gold spray paint to conceal various areas of text, only allowing the viewer to see more positive aspects of each news story. In an interview with the Smithsonian, Nengudi explained, “I chose to pull out that which can build your confidence. ... Instead of it saying, ‘A Man Kills a Woman and Nothing is Left but a Diamond,’ I would black that out — not cut it out, but spray it out — and then find the words within that article that were self-affirming or positive.” Thus, Nengudi selectively reframes the way that Black life is depicted in the media, crafting a narrative that privileges complexity over singularity. 

On view: August 18 – October 2, 2020

Susan Philipsz at Tanya Bonakdar 

Susan Philipsz, “Sleep Close and Fast,” 2020. 
Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

At Tanya Bonakdar in Hollywood, eerie lullabies emanate out of steel barrels. Part of Susan Philipsz’s solo exhibition, “Sleep Close and Fast,” this sound installation includes recordings of Philipsz herself hauntingly singing tunes from thrillers such as “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Wicker Man.” 

The vocals sound vaguely familiar, yet simultaneously hard to place, instilling a sense of unease. Elsewhere, oversized steel whistles play recordings of the artist breathing through the instruments, similar to the lullabies echoing out of steel vessels. This work involves a sense of disembodied absence.   

In an interview with VernissageTV , Philipsz explains, “I became really interested in the sculptural aspects on sound, and how it can define architecture. What happens when you project your voice into space?” Perhaps more important, Philipsz’s sound works affect the viewer on a deep and personal level, drumming up rooted memories hidden within our subconscious. She explains that she works with “the psychological aspects of sound … how it can be a trigger for memory, how it can heighten your sense of yourself while making you aware of the place you’re in.” 

On view: July 15 – September 19, 2020