In a constant state of flux

Works by four artists, from vastly different parts of the world but connected to the African diaspora, reflect their hybrid identities, and their travels to various places

Image Credit: Supplied
Leonardo Benzant, The Mothership, 2017, acrylic, powdered-graphite, oilstick, and oil on paper
Gulf News

The Third Line gallery’s summer show, A Fast Moving Sky, explores the interactions between different cultures, ideas and aesthetics in a dynamic, globalised world. Guest curator Dexter Wimberly has focused on the influence of various African cultures on contemporary art, by bringing together works by four artists born or based in the US, who are connected to the African diaspora. Rushern Baker IV, Leonardo Benzant, Andrew Lyght and Valerie Piraino are cultural hybrids, whose work reflects the influence of various places and aesthetics.

Wimberly, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, is the executive director of Aljira, a centre for contemporary art in Newark, New Jersey. As a curator, he is interested in exploring contemporary culture, American history, economics and power dynamics. He is excited about curating his first show in Dubai.

“The concept of this exhibition is born from my own interactions with people of African descent around the world who reflect a wide range of lifestyles and cultural traditions. I selected the works to create a fluid space that dismantles notions of a singular Black or African aesthetic. Essentially, the show is about how information and people travel around the world, and influence one another, and the fact that ideas, cultures and aesthetics are constantly in flux. The title of the show conveys this feeling of constant movement. The works created by these four artists reflect their hybrid identities, and their travels to various places, and will resonate with audiences in Dubai — a city that is changing rapidly with the constant mingling of a multitude of cultures and ideas,” Wimberly says.



Valerie Piraino, Bad Seed, 2014, polystyrene, epoxy clay, paint, resin (left) and Ravished, Famished, and Juicy (Half Papaya), 2014


Although their practices are very different, the four artists share a common focus on materiality and experimentation, and the use of abstraction to channel memory, and express spiritual, social and political ideas.

Lyght was born in Guyana, South America, has lived in Canada and Europe, and is now based in New York. Memories of his youth in Guyana continue to have a profound influence on his work. His observations of the Atlantic Ocean and a seemingly endless sky meeting at the horizon line sparked his fascination with pictorial space. After a formal, classical art training, he began experimenting by physically deconstructing, altering, and reconstructing the picture plane, the frame and the compositional elements to convey the dynamic nature of pictorial space.

By testing the limits of the conventional canvas, he blurs the boundaries between drawing, painting and sculpture. His works in the show are from his well-known Drawing Structures series, featuring colourful, painted, kite-like objects that seem to escape the confinement of the traditional picture frame by being carefully positioned at different angles by wooden frames, designed and handmade by the artist.

“Growing up in Guyana, my neighbours included Hindus of Indian origin, Muslims from Pakistan, Chinese, and British. My close interaction with them, along with my travels in North America and Europe has influenced my work. These new works are inspired by my childhood memories of making and flying kites, which is a popular sport in Guyana. The abstract geometric designs I have drawn on the ‘kites’ are inspired by my in-depth study of pre-historic art such as the Peruvian Nazca earth drawings, and the ancient Native American Timehri rock carvings of Guyana. The grids on both sides of the canvases reflect the grid-based layout of Guyana planned by the Dutch; and the shapes of the ‘kites’ are influenced by the classical Italian architecture I saw in Rome and Florence. I see these works as drawings in space that elude the limits of the picture frame and capture the movement of kites as they play with the wind and the light in the sky. I believe art should be personal but also universal, and I hope every viewer in this multicultural city can relate to my work,” Lyght says.

Andrew Lyght, AF034 Drawing Structure, 2016-17. Oak Frame, oil stick, acrylic paint, primacolor pencil, on plywood, and nylon cords. Side view

Benzant, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, is of Dominican origin. He is interested in the history, spirit, and oral traditions of his African ancestors who came across the Atlantic Ocean during the Middle Passage. His work is inspired by his research into native African and South American religious rituals, especially the spiritual ground drawings that are part of religious rituals in the Congo.

The artist uses motifs and symbols from the ground drawings such as serpents, arrows, windows and ladders in his colourful paintings to depict the seen and unseen world, and the cosmos. The unusual shapes of his canvasses make the works look like ancient maps. The artist has combined influences from his ancestral roots, and from Western art history, and contemporary global art to create a visual vocabulary that connects him with his heritage, but is universally understood.

“Benzant’s work deals with the idea that during the Middle Passage in the 17th and 18th centuries, when as part of the transatlantic slave trade, millions of Africans were taken from the continent to the Caribbean and the Americas, they brought with them religious beliefs, cultural practices and languages across the ocean. He explores how these elements became dispersed throughout the diaspora, and how they continue to influence people today in Africa, North and South America and the Caribbean,” Wimberly explains.

Piraino was born in Kigali, Rwanda, grew up between sub-Saharan Africa and the US, and now lives in New York. She is presenting a series of free standing and wall mounted sculptures of tropical fruits, plants and seeds such as papayas and coconuts, and objects such as bundles of tarred currency notes, or pieces of gold. Her realistic works, sculpted with polystyrene and epoxy clay, set up a dialogue between nature and made-made environments. She has painted them black and gold to represent resources that have been a blessing as well as a curse for Africa and Africans. The colours also embody migrants from the region, commenting on colonisation, trade, and current migration.

“Piraino’s sculptures reference the long history of mining and environmental damage in Africa. Their organic, skin-like, bruised and worn out surfaces remind us of the suffering of the people involved in mining and farming. The titles of her works, such as ‘Bad Seed’, ‘Ravished, Famished and Juicy’ and ‘Befouled’ reflect her concern with how Africa’s natural environment is manipulated and exploited through tradition, informal economies and globalisation. In general, her work reflects man’s relentless exploitation and destruction of our planet, and her choice of materials is part of that statement,” Wimberly says.

Baker was born and raised in Washington DC in a politically active family. His abstract paintings are inspired by contemporary political issues such as the social, economic and political turmoil he sees around him, and the degradation of the urban environment. Shards of exploding geometric forms and debris interwoven with clouds of smoke, crashing drones, and buildings breaking apart convey a sense of unrest, violence, chaos, and structural breakdown in his compositions.

The paintings are infused with kinetic energy, pulsating colours, and interesting textures, created with materials such as aluminum, resin, concrete and ceramic tile adhesive. “Although his work is about destruction, the artist uses this violent vocabulary to create something beautiful,” Wimberly says.

A Fast Moving Sky will run at The Third Line gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz until July 25.

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