Giana De Dier Introduces Anonymous Women of the African Diaspora in Bold Collaged Portraits
The mystique of anonymity is a powerful presence, exemplified by a common fascination with family albums and historical archives in which we try to recognize unknown faces. Who were they? What are their stories? In bold, mixed-media portraits, Panama City-based artist Giana De Dier is driven by the enigmatic quality of early photographs centering on women of the African Diaspora. Her subjects are often portrayed wearing patterned fabrics, large earrings, and elaborately plaited hairstyles, situated in front of photographed landscapes or domestic interiors that incorporate African masks and decor and tropical plants.
When she first began to make collages, De Dier culled imagery from glossy magazines like Vogue and Elle, incorporating materials and textures from clothing and textiles. Her recent work looks further back in time, drawing inspiration primarily from depictions of women in the 19th and 20th centuries. “I’m interested in who the person photographed was, why they were photographed, and who took the photo,” she says, sharing that even when she comes across a newer image she likes, she manipulates it to make it appear as if it’s from the past. “My intention when using these images is to create new meaning and stories and find ways to connect these with my own.”
De Dier’s collages depict individuals seated in a traditional portrait posture or interacting and conversing with one another in interior settings. The relaxed atmosphere offers a counterpoint to a legacy of those who migrated to Panama in the early 1900s to build the Panama Canal. De Dier examines the “struggle, failed expectations, and heritage of a displaced people” that are informed by interviews and collected stories, remembering a period of grueling labor and challenging living conditions in the segregated Canal Zone.
Combining paper, woven African fabrics, and swatches of denim cut from jeans to make dresses, cloaks, furnishings, and architectural details, De Dier highlights “racial, religious, and language disparities within Panamanian society and culture” while emphasizing individuals’ powerful presences and contributions to the fabric of daily life, both literally and metaphorically. “Denim has always been present in some way,” she says. “It’s also one of the most worn textiles in Panama—where I was born and currently live—even with our warm and humid weather. Denim, to me, is connected with labor and serves as a way of placing these people and events from the past in a context that’s current.”
Find more of De Dier’s work on her website, and follow updates on Instagram.
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Anxious Thoughts and Dreams Occupy the Minds of Johnson Tsang’s Porcelain Figures
Through contorted figures, Johnson Tsang continues to stretch the limits of human consciousness as he blurs the boundary between the real and surreal. The Hong Kong-based artist has spent decades sculpting works in ceramic and steel that explore the liminal and invisible, making thoughts and emotions tangible through minimal forms in white porcelain. Vacillating between the calming and disconcerting, Tsang’s works convey many of the relatable anxieties and coping mechanisms that occupy the contemporary mind.
The artist’s Lucid Dream series frequently presents facial features as cushions with “Comfort Zone” and “Impressed” both featuring slumbering figures squashing the nose and forehead. Other works in the collection are more unsettling and use rubble, duplicates, and aggressive hands to warp the forms. The sculptures reflect Tsang’s own pursuit of spiritual growth and recognize the need to “stop the inner war and face everything that happens with peace.”
This sentiment of acceptance and calm dramatically changed for the artist after he suffered a stroke in January 2022. Following brain surgery, a ten-day coma, and extensive recovery to regain mobility and speech, he’s begun to speak about his health and desire to move forward. He shares with Colossal:
When asked how I am doing, I will playfully answer: ‘I’ve been very busy recently. I’m concentrating on creating a new work, which is my body and my life.’ That means, I’m a sculptor and become the clay that I’m sculpting… I just started a different journey, and embarking on this adventure is actually exciting and full of expectations because I know this particular experience comes only once and I must cherish it. I believe in life. Life is based on love, designed with wisdom, and allows us to grow through experience, so there is always a deeper meaning behind everything, and always with love and kindness —even if it seems not, like (with) a stroke.
Tsang postponed two exhibitions set for last year and is currently easing back into his practice. You can find more of his work and follow his progress on Instagram.
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Through Incisive Paintings, Toni Hamel Highlights Futile and Inadequate Responses to Global Issues
It may be human to err, but Toni Hamel’s characters take mistakes and futility to irrational conclusions. The artist (previously) is known for her keen wit and observations of contemporary life, which she translates into oil paintings that place folly at the center: a woman paints red stripes onto a tulip’s petals, a man gestures toward a celestial Amazon logo, and a team numbers clouds suspended in the sky.
Many of Hamel’s works comment on inadequate responses to major issues like the climate crisis and social inequities, and she often paints scenes with figures undertaking unhelpful and unrelated actions to remedy the problem. Her “Activist” paintings, for example, depict a melting arctic and figures attempting to stop the loss of life and landscape through words alone. Laced with humor and satire, Hamel considers her work a form of protest and “a reflection of my general preoccupations as an artist.”
Currently living and working in Kingston, Ontario, Hamel will have many of the pieces shown here at CK Contemporary in San Francisco in the coming weeks. You can find an archive of her works on her site and Instagram.
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Glitzy Rotting Fruit and Rusted Automobiles by Kathleen Ryan Consider the Tensions of American Consumerism
In Beachcomber, artist Kathleen Ryan (previously) continues her inquiries into consumption and the unsightly remnants of American life. The solo exhibition, on view now at François Ghebaly in Los Angeles, brings together Ryan’s latest works that explore the tension between revulsion and delight, all imbued with a quintessentially California ethos.
Skewered fruits, beach umbrellas, and automotive parts exemplify this relationship between the beautiful and the grotesque through the artist’s signature gemstone treatment. Cobwebs of glimmering quartz crystal tether one side of a rusted Dodge trunk to the other, while precious materials like agate, lapis lazuli, and turquoise become the rotting patches of otherwise supple fare. Each of the sculptures references seaside objects and nostalgic coastal travel, whether through fruit garnishes as in “Deluxe” or the clam-shell folded Volkswagen trunks in “Generator VII.”
Created at life-size or larger, Ryan’s works question the rampant consumerism and a generalized sense of gluttony that pervades much of American sensibilities. She explores kitsch as it relates to class, evoking aspects of suburban life like backyard barbecues and the reverence of cars, road trips, and the wide expanses visible from open highways.
If you’re in Los Angeles, you can see Beachbomber through March 25. Otherwise, find more from Ryan on her site and Instagram.
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Jeffrey Gibson’s Ecstatically Colorful Sculptures Fuse Modernist Aesthetics and Indigenous Traditions
“The land is always speaking and has memory,” Jeffrey Gibson says, as he describes his work in an audio guide for his solo exhibition The Body Electric at SITE Santa Fe last year. “I am frustrated to see how many people continue to abuse the land, take from it, never thank the land, or care for it. Or allow it to rest. So I ask the question: Are you listening? Are we listening?”
Rooted in the myriad ways narratives are constructed and shared, Gibson’s practice incorporates a vivid palette and a multitude of materials that range from glass beads and artificial sinew to fiber fill and sea glass. Vibrant color and graphic forms outline geometric patchworks that include words of affirmation, mottos, and acknowledgments. Quilt-like compositions mingle intricate patterns with symbols and references to myth, Indigenous knowledge, literature, and queer identities.
Throughout his childhood, Gibson moved often and spent periods in Germany, Korea, and the United States, travels that prompted him to suffuse his practice with a multicultural perspective and percolate on popular culture, identity politics, and personal experience. A member of the Chocktaw and Cherokee nations, he fuses the visual languages of Modernism and Indigenous American traditions, drawing inspiration from music, storytelling, and performance. He often incorporates song lyrics into his works or presents provocative snippets of text, like in the bead-framed painting “WHAT WE WANT IS FREE” or one of his Punching Bags titled “I AM A RAINBOW.”
In a group of figurative sculptures, some of which are life-size, Gibson blurs the boundaries between regional traditions and historical eras. He was inspired by a series of dolls from the Plains tribe region that depicted a spectrum of genders, which he encountered when he worked as a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act assistant at Chicago’s Field Museum—NAGPRA is a congressional provision established in 1990 for federal agencies and museums to repatriate or transfer items from their collections to lineal descendants and tribes. Gibson uses these works to explore the way dolls represent the aesthetics of peoples around the world and serve as a medium of social instruction. He carefully avoids assigning the sculptures a gender, which he describes as a proposing a “future hybridity” in which identity and cultural associations are fluid.
A series of intricately beaded bird pieces based on “whimsies” evoke small beaded objects made by Haudenosaunee peoples around the turn of the 20th century that reflect Victorian motifs like paisley or flowers applied to soft objects like boots or pin cushions. “I think they’re beautiful,” Gibson says:
…but they fell into a category of being kitsch novelty because they weren’t seen as being native enough or Victorian enough for the times they were being made in. They were on the shelf of objects that fell outside of clear, culturally-specific objects, and that’s what drew me to them. I was like, ‘Who made these? What are they?’ and I guess I felt myself reflected in them to some degree.
Central to Gibson’s work is a celebration of what he calls “outsider-ness,” collectivity, cross-pollination, kinship, and respect for each other and for the land. Described as Indigenous futurism, his practice emphasizes optimism and a focus on moving forward as he re-contextualizes versions of history that have long misrepresented or omitted Native American stories.
Find more of the artist’s work on his website, and follow updates on Instagram.
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Daniel Agdag’s Playful Rollercoaster Takes a Miniature Approach to Monumental Amusement
Although riders aren’t able to board Daniel Agdag’s rollercoaster, the Australian artist (previously) ensures that his recreational design is structurally sound. Agdag recently completed his largest project to date, a nearly ten-foot big dipper with an elaborately cross-hatched base that mimics the rides. Created during a two-year period, “Lattice” is a miniature rendition of the monumental pastime, built from vellum and “897,560 individual hand-cut cardboard members in the truss section alone,” a component that took about eight months to complete.
The intricate sculpture—which was a commission from the New York City Department of Education and NYC School Construction Authority Public Art for Public Schools in collaboration with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program—references Luna Park, a now-defunct chain that began in Coney Island before expanding to locations worldwide. “In fact, the Melbourne Luna Park still has one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in the world, and this work was very much inspired by a wooden rollercoaster. I thought that was a nice way to link the work’s origin and its destination,” Agdag shares, noting that the “House of Mirrors” section is an ode to the Peter Wiederer Mirror Company that originally occupied the Staten Island site.
Now permanently housed at the Evelyn Lewis Campus—given its location on school property, there’s no public access to view the work—”Lattice” engages with the metaphor of life as a rollercoaster, perpetually moving forward through a series of twists, turns, dips, and peaks. “But this is but one metaphor,” Agdag tells Colossal, explaining that the piece also references a collective spirit. He says:
To me, the representation speaks of systems hidden within the amusement, a considered structure. Constructed of many individual stems and beams, I interpret it as the many people that need to contribute to making society not only function but thrive. The individual structural elements laced together to form a beautiful lattice of strength. Independently they carry little weight, but together they are strengthened and resilient against the forces that try to tear them down.
Agdag shares glimpses into his process and studio on Instagram, where you can follow along with his latest projects.
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