Pre-Script: We know the show concluded almost two and a half months ago, but it is still good to share our two cents on it!
Sarah Lewis curates works of CPW’s artists in-residence at Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, Stony Brook University in the form of a traveling exhibition titled Race, Love and Labor. The show attempts to capture the individual and collective histories of its subjects, resulting in a photographic oeuvre which strives to be creative, individualistic and responsive to its thematic focus conspicuous in the show’s heading. Yes, it is a collection of inspiring works, yet you might also lose focus as latent ennui rolls over when you try to warp your head around verbose artist statements, too many sub-themes and sculptural works that seem out of place in the gallery.
One of the strongest works come from Xaveria Simmons, with a thought provoking photograph of an African American woman, who carries luggage tied to a bamboo stick by balancing it on her shoulder with her right hand placed over her temple. The scene is set in a rustic rural area with the subject placed not in the center but towards one side. More striking works come from Latoya Ruby Frazier; monochromatic pictures of herself, her mother and grandmother make a strong statement by bringing our attention to the lives and the histories of the African Americans. Frazier will have you gazing at these photographs which depict three generations of women; their personalities speaking on behalf of an entire race whose psychological well-being has been disturbed by the continuous undermining of its civil rights. She places two subjects in each photograph and makes you marvel at the intensity that lines not only the visage and the eyes of the subjects but the intensity that brims forth from their entire personas. Do they communicate about the hardship faced by minorities, still battling to be viewed outside of the discriminatory gaze within their own country? Absolutely and that is exactly what these photographs encapsulate in their vivid simplicity.
Though Simmons and Frazier entice you with their individualistic subjects, the reverse occurs when they are erased completely; I am speaking of Gina Osterloh’s monochromatic photographs. With just dots connected with short lines on a backdrop, created in artist’s own words as ‘out of a frustration with portraiture’, Osterloh’s works add another dimension of frustration (read boredom) as the frames fail to cast much of an impression. Work by Deana Lawson also does not stimulate an energy despite focusing on a more corporeal aspect of personal history. The result is a nude subject with the body posed sideways for the camera; both these works fail to respond to the show’s loaded theme. It might relate to Love; the artist makes a hazy art statement and you cannot determine what this photo is really trying to achieve. Can any nude photograph warrant a significance for love in the broader concept? To add more in the list of similar works, there are the sculptural photographs, equally forgettable, despite having strong concepts.
The depiction of Love in this exhibition is almost subliminal, there is nothing that is conspicuous as you might just have to read between the lines to find it lurking in a few photographs. As you tour the rest of the gallery, you will come across a big white board to write comments on and a photo booth with neatly placed couches providing space for a chat on the subject. This is where the curator engages you in a dialogue with the other half of the gallery, offering an important unsaid statement that art is not just to be viewed individually but to be understood with respect to its space and context.
With both captivating and yet a few other works arousing less curiosity, the exhibition should be visited at least once to catch a glimpse of not only how photographers are finding links between art and society at these critical junctions but also how contemporary curators are playing with aesthetics and space.
Race, Love and Labor concluded at Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, Stony Brook University on October 21, 2017.