Sunday 11 December 2022

In the Black Fantastic - Kunsthal, Rotterdam

There's a shamanistic, larger-than-life presence in Soundsuit (2014) Nick Cave
(Courtesy of artist/ Jack Shainman Gallery, NY/ Mandrake Hotel Collection)
In the Black Fantastic

19 November – 9 April 2023, Kunsthal, Rotterdam

In the Black Fantastic: exhibition about being black in the past, present and future. After a successful run Hayward Gallery in London, the exhibition is now on show at Kunsthal in Rotterdam.

“There are black people in the future” stands large on the facade of the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. It is a work by Alisha B. Wormsley who critically examines the oppression of Black communities while at the same time encouraging Black people to claim their place.
This is just one of the powerful works in the new exhibition that features a mix of painting, photography, video, sculpture, and installations.

In the Black Fantastic is trully a fantastic experience brought to the Netherlands by the curator Shehera Grot. Yes, it is very visually appealing at first sight and it immediately engages you in a visual sensation. Subsequently, you discover the layers of stories and necessities that the artists tell with their work. It is a very effective multimedia composition at the intersection of reality and fantasy. Although this fantastical experience may seem to distract you from the constraints Black people have to deal with on daily basis, the artists here use their imaginative gift to explore new possible realities.

In the Black Fantastic, Kunsthal Rotterdam, foto Fred Ernst

In the Black Fantastic works are shown by eleven contemporary artists from the African Diaspora. With boundless imagination and skilled virtuosity, the artists are addressing racism and social inequality. Inspired by folklore, myth, science fiction, spiritual tradition, and Afrofuturism, they are imagining new worlds and possibilities. In the Black Fantastic shows art that speaks about various universal themes and human experiences, made from different starting points, contexts and perspectives. Art that appeals to everyone and appeals to the imagination.

In the Black Fantastic, Kunsthal Rotterdam, foto Fred Ernst

The writer and curator Ekow Eshun brought together two generations of artists in this exhibition: Nick Cave, Sedrick Chisom, Ellen Gallagher, Hew Locke, Wangechi Mutu, Rashaad Newsome, Chris Ofili, Tabita Rezaire, Cauleen Smith, Lina Iris Viktor, and Kara Walker.

The featured artists are reshaping the way we tell stories from imagining the past and thinking about the future. At the same time, they are engaged in the current societal challenges. The exhibition includes legendary Soundsuits by Nick Cave who started with the series in response to the brutal assault of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. Composed with rich colours, patterns and embellishments these sculpted suits adorn and protect the body of the person wearing it, but at the same time draw all the attention with their striking appearance. Nick Cave recently created Soundsuit 9:29 dedicated to George Floyd, who sadly was a victim by police aggression, showing how still relevant his works are.

The Ambassadors is another striking work by the artist Hew Locke who encourages you to look at memorial statues in a different way: his equestrian statues seem to have escaped from a dystopian landscape.

In her multi-layered series of self-portraits, Lina Iris Viktor combines influences from, among other things, classical mythology, West-African textiles, and Aboriginal painting. She depicted herself as the Libyan Sibyl in the series about Liberia, a country that was founded in 1822 as a new home for Black people who were either free-born or liberated from slavery.

The British artist Chris Ofili is looking for a new version of Homer's Odyssey. He places the classic story in Trinidad and depicts a Black Odysseus. The Greek hero is entwined in the arms of his beloved Calypso, painted as a mermaid in mysterious landscapes.

Born in New Orleans, and now living between Brooklyn and Los Angeles, Rashaad Newsome is an artist whose work blends collage, assemblage, sculpture, film, video, animation, photography, music and performance. Among the exhibited works there are several collages, a vogueing pose in a traditional African sculpture style and a short film work Build or Destroy. In this video Newsome talks about the challenges of finding a place in a Western art world that is weighted by colonialism.
In the Black Fantastic, Kunsthal Rotterdam, foto Fred Ernst

‘The Black body, or the female or femme body, is a body that comes so loaded that it’s a really exciting starting point for many of the conversations that I’m trying to have.’
- Rashaad Newsome

Sedrick Chisom presents scenes from a post-apocalyptic future in which all people of colour have chosen to leave Earth. This world is inhabited exclusively by white people who have been overcome with a contagious disease which has divided them into opposing groups, but both united in their view that they are superior.

In the playful film-based installation Tabita Rezaire shows a montage of digital images and animated graphics projected onto a large pyramid structure a darkened room. The film is accompanied by a polyvocal audio narrative of young, non-binary and LGBTQi+ contributors of colour discussing different perspectives on gender fluidity and the possibilities of a world beyond the traditional ‘masculine-feminine’ duality. With this work, Tabita Rezaire advocates for a more fluid understanding of gender identity and also cautions against ‘them/us’ binarism.

Cauleen Smith introduces utopian possibilities by projecting sentimental objects on to video footage of landscapes in the pursuit of transcendence.

Fruthermore, there are works displayed from the Watery Ecstatic series by Ellen Gallagher, combining myth and the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and Wangechi Mutu’s video work The End of eating Everything, depicting the monstrous nature of mass consumption.
And not to forget Kara Walker’s cut-paper craft that exposes the US’s racist history with the whimsical nostalgia of shadow-puppet language.

Go see In the Black Fantastic!

Some more impressions,
Images by Branko Popovic

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