Two Artists Foreground the African-American Experience at CONTEXT Art Miami

Though progress has been made in the past few decades, the black experience is an underrepresented theme in contemporary art. Curator’s Office, under the direction of Andrea Pollan, lends its curatorial prowess to this disparity at CONTEXT Art Miami. Their booth features Larry Cook and Jefferson Pinder, two artists exploring race and black identity in very different ways. The focus of the exhibition is sadly even more germane following the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. Their works contribute to the larger discussion spurred by those events, on what it means to be a black man in America today.

In emerging photographer Larry Cook’s “Regalia” series, he outfits his friends in doctoral gowns, traditional academic regalia intended to reflect academic achievement and contribution. They are photographed against the conventional soft-gradient background of school pictures. By working in a directorial mode, Cook constructs his own symbology within the photographs. He creates what he wants to see and wants others to see. Cook explains that through this series he is “trying to break this school-to-prison pipeline and reintroduce a different view of black males.” Cook alters the economy of existing images of black males and as a result stimulates thought and challenges stereotypes.

Cook’s photo triptych, All American (2014), juxtaposes three figures donning the colors of the American flag: a member of the L.A. gang the Bloods (red), a member of the Ku Klux Klan (white) and a member of Bloods rival gang the Crips (blue). Here, as plainly as in the former portraits, we are faced with representatives of violence and hatred from seemingly opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.

Jefferson Pinder’s piece Magical Negro (Egungun) (2013) interprets black American history through African ritual tradition. Pinder fabricated a performance garment based on the role of Egungun, a foreboding figure who features in Yoruba masquerade rituals that are performed to connect with the dead. Ensembles worn during these masquerades are highly symbolic, particularly in their structures and fabric components, often representing people and animals in memoriam. The base of Pinder’s piece is a black straightjacket with its belts and straps hanging loose, an allusion to both the practice of lynching and the persecution of slavery. The exhibition also includes Pinder’s works on paper further investigating these themes.

—M.A. Wholey

Visit Curator’s Office at CONTEXT Art Miami, Booth E13, Dec. 2–7, 2014.

Follow Curator’s Office on Artsy.

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