Tag Archives: Hyperallergic

AMBER ROBLES-GORDON’s “Successions : Traversing U.S. Colonialism” reviewed in Hyperallergic

11 Dec

Art Reviews

The Liminal Space of Identity for Residents of US Territories

In Amber Robles-Gordon’s artwork, the borders between states matter less than the overlapping territories of self, the never-ending negotiation of identity.

by Kriston Capps

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Washington, DC — Seven “flags” hang in Amber Robles-Gordon’s show at the American University Museum: one for each of the five unincorporated United States territories in the Caribbean, one for the District of Columbia, and one to signify the artist’s place in between those locales.

Each of these quilted, banner-like pieces has two sides: one personal, one political. This makes 14 flags — and countless subdivisions, really, considering all the fault lines and fractures that compose the quilted surfaces. They aren’t literal territorial emblems, but like the actual flags they resemble, these banners make a constitutional statement, about one person, divisible, beautifully so.

Suspended from the third-floor atrium, the seven flags are a showstopper in Successions: Traversing US Colonialism. For this show, which was curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah and also includes mixed-media collages on canvas, Robles-Gordon set out to explore her own Caribbean roots. The artist couples traditional textiles with an approach to abstraction that draws on Washington’s rich painting legacy to reflect the dynamism of the African diaspora, and where she dwells within it.

Robles-Gordon, who is Afro-Latina, spent much of the pandemic between San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she was born, and the District of Columbia, where she lives and works. The ideas that culminated with this body of work are informed by research into state borders, social systems, and political hierarchies. Yet the show brims with improvisation, color, and self-discovery.

Robles-Gordon borrows from insignia of the US territories while building her own personal cosmology of symbols to assert her supra-national identity. For the front side of her Virgin Islands quilt, titled “USVI Political” (2021), she deploys the shield banner and eagle emblem of the territory’s flag. The artist juxtaposes arrows, laurels, and other figurative elements with abstract bands of color alongside collaged images of Virgin Islands license plates. A gold chain hangs over the whole thing — just a dash of Robert Rauschenberg. “USVI Spiritual, Moko Jumbie: Walk Tall and Heal Forward” (2021), the back side, is an entirely abstract pattern that references the carnival stilt-walker tradition that came to the Caribbean from West Africa. The flags for Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and D.C. are similarly structured.

Successions considers the feedback loops of immigration and identity. It’s a formally intersectional show, too, as Robles-Gordon draws on Afro-Caribbean traditions and iconography as well as African American art history in her approach to collage. The works of David Driskell and Alma Thomas suffuse her mark-making: “Puerto Rico Political” (2021) resembles a Puerto Rican flag superimposed over one of Thomas’s circle paintings. Robles-Gordon’s quilts point to the rich use of fabric and textile techniques by Black artists such as Rosie Lee Tompkins and Faith Ringgold and the artists of Gee’s Bend (and, more recently, Tomashi Jackson and Eric N. Mack). A wealth of dense patterning and color adorns Robles-Gordon’s works, which reward close looking.

D.C. galleries are increasingly making room for artists weighing questions of status and identity. Anil Revri’s mixed-media abstractions, also on view at the museum, take cues from sacred Hindu patterns and geometric abstract painting; across town, the Arlington Arts Center is hosting an exhibition by Pakistan-born artist Sobia Ahmad that features a haunting series of white flags, made from screen-printed woven rice bags and based on her family’s forced migration after the Partition of India and Pakistan.

The works in Successions are stamped with stars and bars and other symbols laden with the weight of ceremony and state. Yet Robles-Gordon’s collages also include references to botánicas, birth control, and bioluminescent bays, putting the personal on par with the political. In her work, the borders between states matter less than the overlapping territories of self, the never-ending negotiation of identity, shown in these works as a source of comfort and conflict alike.

Successions: Traversing US Colonialism continues at the American University Museum (4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington D.C.) through December 12. The exhibition was curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah.

Available Artwork by AMBER ROBLES-GORDON

Hyperallergic, Prizm and Morton Fine Art’s Osi Audu and Amber Robles-Gordon

11 Dec


In Miami, a Fair for Artists from Africa and the African Diaspora Shines Again

The Prizm Art Fair, which consistently shows great work, has finally been given the room to breathe.

Charo Oquet, "Like an arrow, like a tree, like a mountain" (2018), mixed media-installation (image courtesy the artist)
Charo Oquet, “Like an arrow, like a tree, like a mountain” (2018), mixed media-installation (image courtesy the artist)

MIAMI — Construction of the Alfred I. duPont Building was completed in 1939, when its primary tenant was the Florida National Bank. I have been there three times in the last two years — once to see Trina perform on an old vault for a Borscht Film Festival party, then for an anticlimactic ghost tour, and last night, for Prizm Art Fair. The space is sweeping and beautiful and very appropriate for Prizm — a fair that consistently shows great work in spaces that never did it justice. It always shone through, but here, in this building, with all its breadth and light, the feeling was a sigh of relief. Work like this needs space. Room to breathe.

Left: Patrick Quarm, “Dada,” oil paint, African print, 33 x 34 1/4 inches; Right: “Mama ba,” oil paint, African print fabric on canvas, 42 x 32 1/2 inches (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Now in its sixth edition, Prizm features talks, performances, and 63 artists across several participating galleries and three specifically curated sections. Dr. Jeffreen M. Hayes’s section, The Diaspora Currency: Black Women, focuses on work by or featuring black women, a means of centering their voices as valuable, actual currency. That’s a real through-line in the fair: reparations, or that which is reparative. Curative. Transforming the forces of capitalism and white supremacy into systems and imaginaries that empower those forced to live under it. “Renegotiation,” says Mikhaile Solomon, Prizm’s founder.

Jamele Wright, “In Transit Number 9” (2018), on display at September Gray (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Solomon has curated her own section, The Dark Horse, which refers to the archetype of the same name — the unforeseen visitor, or here, powerful retaliation. She’s included work like Dáreece J. Walker’s charcoal drawings of die-ins, entitled “The Die-Ins: Can I live” (2018), and a video of Dread Scott’s 2010 performance, “Money to Burn,” in which he burned $250 on Wall Street and invited traders to do the same. Nearby, in the gallery section, Tahir Carl Karmali’s draped raffia robes shine with inlaid cobalt — your phone battery is probably made with it, and a child might’ve mined it. There’s a cost to these hard truths, and one for learning them: willful suspension of disbelief. But knowledge can be reclamation, too.

Christa Davis, "When the Smoke Clears" (2018) (image courtesy the artist and TILA Studios Gallery)
Christa David, “When the Smoke Clears” (2018) (image courtesy the artist and TILA Studios Gallery)

The work at Prizm also channels the spirit of embodiment — the literal, manifested act of being fully inside one’s body. Presence, people call it. Reimagining the self is some form of transformation as well; it’s everywhere at Prizm: Osi Audu’s graphite self-portraits that look like voids, their sheen a suggestion of what’s inside. Amber Robles-Gordon’s works that look like mandalas, decorated with her belongings — cowrie shells, jewels — and entrail-like snakes. Adriana Farmiga’s watercolor acrylic nails, painted rainbow-pastel. Jamele Wright’s big, gorgeous tapestries of fabric, repeated patterns — a reference to the mingling of identities, recycling, even in hip-hop — and red dirt from the earth.

Osi Audu, “Self Portrait after Dogon Bird Mask II” (2018), graphite and pastel on paper mounted on canvas, 15 x 22 inches (image courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art)
Amber Robles-Gordon, “South and of the Fire” (2016), mixed media on canvas, 34 x 35 inches (image courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art)

The artist William Cordova curated the third section: Transceivers: channels, outlets and forces. It’s the first you see, and the one I went to last. Experiencing Prizm in a circle — in a cycle — feels right, because the works speak to each other, and the conversation is continuous. Ritual is prominent in Cordova’s section, specifically the ritual of transmitting history, maybe rewriting it. Khaulah Naima Nuruddin’s graphite drawings of Eatonville homes, intimate and distant from the very paper they’re portrayed on, reference the formerly all-black town in Orlando.

Purvis Young at William Cordova’s Transceivers: channels, outlets and forces, installation view (image by Victoria Ravelo)

Prizm’s video works were my favorite of all. Ezra Wube’s animated video, “Hidirtina/ Sisters” (2018), in Solomon’s section, is part of a story collection Wube started in 2004, when he sent out an open call for folklore to a Habesha diaspora community in New York City. His animation is based on a volunteer’s short story, which centers on a group of seven immortal sisters, one  of who falls in love with a hunter. Against the sisters’ warning, he murders a deer, whose sudden listlessness is rendered slowly; his beloved instructs him to climb a tree to protect himself from subsequent cosmic retaliation. Onajide Shabaka’s one-minute “Henry Meade Leighton 1881” (2018), located in Cordova’s section, tells the story of a man’s body, discovered in a river, covered in the muck of swamps. Though his pockets were “officially said to be empty,” says the narrator, “a woven knot of long, black hair was found … inside one pocket of his overalls. Some said, a naked woman of light complexion with long black hair, had been seen swimming in the area. But every search for her ended with no evidence of the woman being found.”

Tahir Carl Karmali, “STRATA I,” raffia, cobalt, oxide, copper and aluminum, 69 x 52 inches (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The body of the earth is, I think, another thread in Prizm — its ills and treasures, its destruction, the way its losses mirror human loss, the way it grows, enchants, and flourishes anyway.

Prizm Art Fair continues at the Alfred I. DuPont Building (169 East Flagler Street, Miami) through December 9.