Cuban artist Francis Acea uses his art as a tool to comment upon the way we, as humans, put value on the things around us, and the unintended, often negative impact those decisions can have on the world around us.
In his latest show, “Black Diamonds,” on view at New York’s Merton D. Simpson Gallery, Acea presents two series of graphic, street-style reminiscent paintings that depict the very things we value most: gold, diamonds, and the human mind. In the show, like many at the gallery, these new works are placed alongside unique objects from indigenous cultures within the African Diaspora, creating a cross-cultural dialogue through time that takes on a long view of the commodification of culture.
In his “Gold Matter” paintings, Acea takes the familiar iconography of the human brain and transforms it into a luxe commodity, as cross sections of cerebellum are presented as abstracted acrylic forms in glittering metallic gold paint. By casting an image associated with human consciousness in the trappings of human greed, Acea begs viewers to ask themselves how far they are willing to be seduced by symbols of wealth and status. What, exactly do we value most?
The other works in the show, part of the “Black Diamond” series, explore a different type of luxury object: the elusive Carbonado, or black diamond. Executed in detailed black-on-black in the style of a gemologist’s diagram for valuing a stone, here Acea’s subject matter is one of the toughest, rarest materials known to man, believed by some to have extraterrestrial origins, a mythology that’s referenced by nearby objects from the Malian Dogon tribe, one of the first groups of people to study the night sky. Impossible to make, only to be found, these minerals call to mind darker realities of blood diamonds, the ways we strip the earth of the very things we most desire from it, and human suffering in the pursuit of wealth.