'Out & Bad'
FLXST Contemporary, Chicago, 2021
The title of the show comes from an expression popularised back at the beginning of the new millennium* by Dancehall DJs. Nadia Ellis best explained the phrase in her essay for Small Axe, Volume 15.
“Within dancehall, “out and bad” implies a certain form of glamour and confidence—the
phrase designates someone who is unabashed about his skills and looks, who enjoys
prominence and spectacle, whose confidence is wed to an investment in being the center of attention. Out and bad is also, felicitously, a yoking of two discrete discursive fields: US-style queer politics and Jamaican masculine imperatives.”
— Nadia Ellis*
The title in this show, however, draws meaning from being on the outside as being queer, playing with the periphery and stereotypes, on the borderline of visibility and invisibility. My preoccupation with these contradictions is a space for making, not just brings to life a unique life experience but the chance to exorcise them.
It is easy to form articulation around practical codes of expression like fashion in Dancehall but harder to point into its psychology, its interiorities, and how much of that is bound up with the post-colonial state. I am interested in the fine lines, the codes of conduct, what happens behind the eye. It’s a genre of music and culture that is in constant flux but the consistency of abject life brings truth to its core and how much it’s wrapped up in violence, sex, politics, history, and the problems with the black body. The endeavor of my practice stems from a personal experience being of that culture, both loved and hated; embraced and feared. That, in its essence, a queer experience that I willingly undertake through my imagination and abstraction.
The centerpiece for the show “Power and the glory”, takes from my interest in fugitivity and blackness. Black gay love has been greatly undocumented, which largely leaves it purely as a contemporary identity, as opposed to one that came with us on slave ships.* I have been frantically redrawing historical images and using them as street paper paste-upS, as means of critique and reflection on the present. The artist as a historical documenter comes up from my earlier works that repurposed Joseph Bartholomew Kidd’s (1808 – 1889) landscapes, John James Audubon’s birds, Isaac Mendes Belisario’s street studies, or even the photographic portals of the Duperly and Son’s Daguerreotypes. Trying to reconnect by redrawing and reinterpreting these stylized ‘facts’. Most, if none depict black queer love— much less their humanity.
“Power and the glory” continues this search and from its inception, I created another wall piece aimed to disrupt another depiction of ‘faux historic’ imagery. The photograph, done by Alexis & Jean Yves By Pierre & Gilles titled ‘L’Afrique brise ses chaînes", known for queer portraiture that are hand painted. In a poetic sense, this image fulfilled one point of my search for historical documentation of same-sex love in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade era. In its fictionalization, it is fulfilling my hope of such evidence but critically as an art object perpetuating problems around the black body like objectification, colonialism, and the power dynamic of the white gaze.
The painting that’s a component of this installation seeks to retain the power of the sitters by obstructing the viewer’s ability for recognition.