From the moment the West
began colonizing Africa and Oceania in the early 15th century, a steady stream
of fantastic weavings, masks, sculptures, textiles, and ritual objects poured
into its newly established museums, galleries, and international expositions.
Artists took note. Throughout the 20th century, they were making work deeply
influenced by the forms and patterns of African and Oceanic objects. And as the
” revealed, this influence lives on well into
the 21st century.
The exhibition featured the
work of six New York-based contemporary artists, hailing from diverse
backgrounds and ranging from emerging to established, in dialogue with an
assortment of the gallery’s own collection of African tribal and Oceanic
sculptures, including a stunning array of masks and headpieces. Set next to
these older pieces, the works of Francis Acea
, Liliya Lifanova
, Noel Leon
, Tyrone Mitchell
, Aaron Philip
, and Jill Nathanson
resonated with similarities both conceptual and
formal, overt and subtle.
Using a mix of materials,
like wood salvaged from African sculptures and Chinese temples, as well as the
detritus of consumer culture, Tyrone Mitchell assembles whimsical, additive
forms, in homage to such famous figures as John Coltrane and Walt Whitman and
the tradition of black art in America. Like the African sculptures whose
massing forms and angular contours they echo, his works conjure powerful
predecessors. Iconic figures of an entirely different kind are the subject of
Noel Leon’s large-scale paintings of cartoon power couple Mickey and Minnie
Mouse. Contextualized by the ancestral traditions of Africa and Oceania, these
famous mice represent the dubious ancestral legacy of American mass media.
Both Liliya Lifanova and
Jill Nathanson make abstract compositions whose patterning and everyday
materials recall various African textiles and art practices. Composed of small
rolls of paper or linen arranged into geometrical patterns, Lifanova’s pieces
resemble Congolese Kuba textiles. Nathanson utilizes sheets of colored plastic,
torn and layered into richly hued fields. Her use of such humble materials, and
the tones and textures in her work, link her approach to West African artistic
practice—yet another tie illustrating the bind between these and so many other
contemporary artists and the arts of Africa and Oceania.