J'ACCUSE …! HRH P.R.'S BATTLE FOR CULTIVATION AT ENVOY ENTERPRISES
Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and envoy enterprises, New York
Since Emile Zola published his, now famous, open letter in a French newspaper in 1898, "J'accuse!" has become a generic expression of outrage and accusation.
HRH P.R. (whose actual name is Prince Rasheed) goes by his moniker, which is his graffiti tag. As is the practice of traditional artists who sign their artwork, graffiti artists use a tag (stylized personal signature containing the graffiti writer’s name) to sign their work.
His exhibition at envoy enterprises - Battle for Cultivation - accuses the government and fractions of the media for increasing the lack of empathy in society and for creating a "us vs. them" mentality.
HRH P.R. is very familiar with the hurdles life can throw at you. He fled home after finishing high school in Dillon, SC and lived a nomadic existence until he settled in a desolate warzone in the vicinity of Detroit. Living together with a number of people in a deserted industrial building, the desolation of the suburban landscape of Detroit, dominated by gang wars and unemployment, is his world. One could say that the "strive to survive" environment makes his art indistinguishable from life. His relationship to the world and his role within society are expressed through his work. The artist's life however is not the "artwork," nor does he consider his artwork art. Self-taught, he has no contact with the mainstream art world. Obviously he has something better to do than to wallow in the musings of the art world.
HRH P.R.'s work explores society’s obsession with sensationalism. Throughout his work, the artist argues that sensation poisons empathy and that it makes people numb and void of critical thought. Battle for Cultivation highlights three chapters of the artist’s work.
In the BGGH (By the Greater Grace of Hatred) series, the artist argues that by using humankind’s natural draw to sensation, the media bears responsibility for numbing its public by providing them with an avalanche of sensation. When it concerns crime, the actual cause is never reported about nor is anything ever done about it.
Within the series, RNPF, addresses the murder of movie star Ramon Novarro, an actor best known for his role opposite Greta Garbo in Mata Hari. SMLRW, pictures the murder of Sal Mineo, who co-starred with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, while PPPGP addresses the murder of Italian film director, poet and writer Pier Paulo Pasolini. The NOLK series consists of nine pieces installed in a grid, with each piece being a direct reference to the murder of Ernst Röhm’s entire S.A. division of the Nazi party in 1934.
Applying the same technique as in the BGGH series, MMO (male models objectified) is a reaction against a strongly resurging chauvinism. Objectifying women is perceived as normal as breathing. It is matter-of-fact to the point of banality. Objectifying men however is immediately equated with homosexuality. A prejudice, which is not applied to the objectification of women. With MMO, the artist addresses the double standard as well as the sensation caused by the use of nude male models in fashion spreads, nudity which is severely criticized by many (male) commentators.
HRH P.R. observes, reacts and expresses himself with the means that are available to him. He collects and re-appropriates photographs from ordinary and often ephemeral sources and focuses on everything that photography is incapable of telling you about its subjects. Perpetrators and victims merge, since it is difficult to distinguish one from another, yet they are never really anonymous.
The photographs are printed on layers of transparent film until they become an object imbued with history. At once personal and universal in reference, the work transcends individual identity. It functions instead as shared cultural memories infused with elements of specificity and truth. While revisiting the experience of historical events, they are as much a monument to the dead as they are an accusation of sensationalism and inaction.
There's a physical density, an absorptive quality to the work, which makes that it can never be read in just one way. What from a distance seems to be a portrait or a black abstraction, upon moving closer, the first impression changes according to where one is positioned in relation to the work. All of a sudden, a deeper truth about the image, an unfathomable depth descends upon the viewer. Continuing shifts in position go hand in hand with the transformation of a portrait into landscape or a scene of men playing soccer into a portrait. The viewer's gaze is sucked into the work through the dense layering hiding different scenes. The fathomless black in the works is not the black of desperation, but rather testifies to a silent mourning, repressed guilt and recognition of the existence of what is lost. Nothing about the work is theatrical or melodramatic, nor is it cold or formal.
An entirely different body of work WTD2 (We Take a Dump too) bluntly deals with sensationalism. It consists of an installation of photographs, personally autographed by male celebrities. Like moths to a flame, the artist traps those flocking to the portraits by taking advantage of the fact that the public is not allowed to touch artworks. In what is the artist's version of the tale of the emperor's new clothes, the viewer is offered the clothed image of the subject, leaving them to project the qualities they choose onto the person portrayed. Should they be allowed to touch the photographs, on the reverse, they would find an authentic full frontal nude shot of the subject pictured on the front.
This leaves us with the mysterious choice of acronyms for titles. Like with the use of his tag (an acronym of his name), all of the artist’s works are titled with acronyms.While acronyms predate the Christian era, they became more prevalent in the 20th century and have since become more commonly used trough text messaging on mobile phones. Like with a pictogram, they are intended to be recognized immediately, but according to the artist, their increased use is also becoming a tool of separation, leaving a great number of people in the dark. HRH P.R. extends this thought to the way art is viewed. Necessarily or unnecessarily, visual art is often accompanied by explanations, something the artist brings to the foreground by purposefully using an acronym for a title, which automatically triggers the so-called need for explanation. However, unlike with a great number of artists whose work stays or falls with the accompanying text, the work of HRH P.R. can easily do without.