At the heart of Garden of Eve, Harmonia Rosales’ comprehensive exhibition at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills, is the power of narrative. The show spans years of Rosales’ career, featuring dozens of portraits in oil and perhaps the grandest work she’s produced thus far: encircled with lights, an upturned ship towers over the gallery, allowing viewers to pass underneath and peer upwards at the frescoed expanse.
Referencing the vessels utilized in the transatlantic slave trade, the lofty structure re-envisions the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and uses Michaelangelo’s Renaissance works as a blueprint to recast Genesis through the lens of female empowerment and Orishas, deities in religions of the African diaspora. Dozens of Rosales’ paintings, like “Birth of Eve” and her 2017 “Creation of God” that garnered viral attention, cloak the ship with a narrative that’s both widely recognizable and subversive in its telling, with Black and Latinx subjects at the center. “I didn’t want it to be a chapel ceiling because then that’s against everything I’m trying to convey, especially with this Yoruba religion,” Rosales shares with Colossal. “So why not put it on the undercarriage of a slave ship, the very thing that brought these stories to us?”
Now based in Los Angeles, Rosales has roots in Chicago, the city where she began pursuing her art practice full-time and where she first conceived of the installation. Five years in the making, the project is a testament to the artist’s dedication to long-term thinking. Her process is relatively slow and requires as much research as hours at the easel, meaning she generally produces less than ten works each year. Back then, Rosales says, “I was trying to hide behind my paintings. I was thinking that, okay, if I just paint, people will understand that, but I knew I had to really speak on the paintings myself. This time allowed me to feel comfortable and to curate my message better in a way where all can understand.”
Rosales has long been concerned with communication and comprehension, particularly as she brings lesser-known deities into the mainstream and elevates such religious figures to the status of those within ancient Greco-Roman myth and the Christian iconography that have dominated much of art history. “All along, with all of these exhibitions, I was creating puzzle pieces, pieces to the Sistine Chapel,” she says about the smaller paintings. “Now people can go back and really understand it.”
Many of the works collapse time periods and blend references, like “Forbidden Fruit,” which centers on a woman encircled in a gold halo eating a slice of the pink melon. “Ever wonder why watermelon became a cruel stereotype?” Rosales asks. “It was the one fruit that symbolized Black self-sufficiency after emancipation.” Similarly, the titular work, “Garden of Eve,” centers on Yemaya, the mother of all Orishas in the Yoruba faith. Shielding her face from the chaos of children and florals, the spirit witnesses “the disruption of her perfect garden, (which) intentionally parallels the disruption of the African continent.”
Ultimately, Rosales wants to question dominant Eurocentric narratives and to expose that the Orishas and religions she’s referencing are as old, enduring, and relevant as others. “What came first? Why have these gods been hidden? Why haven’t they been mainstreamed?” she posits. “To hide these gods, thus our identity, it’s keeping us in check. The more that they get out, the more that we are realizing that this is old. It strengthens us as a whole.”
Garden of Eve is up through November 30 in Beverly Hills. Rosales will continue working within stories of creation as she prepares for her solo show opening in March at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Until then, find more from her on Instagram.
Share this story
Artist Simone Leigh Embodies Self-Determination in the Historic ‘Sovereignty’ at the Venice Biennale
“To be sovereign is to not be subject to another’s authority, another’s desires, or another’s gaze but rather to be the author of one’s own history.” This conviction founds Simone Leigh: Sovereignty, the artist’s new body of work created for the U.S. Pavilion of the 2022 Venice Biennale. Leigh is the first Black woman to be awarded the prestigious commission.
Comprised of towering bronze works and ceramics, the exhibition continues Leigh’s questions about self-determination, historical erasure, and Black femme subjectivity. She explores both interiority and what it means for Black women, who she’s repeatedly described as her primary audience, to move through the world.
While largely sculptural, Sovereignty opens with Leigh’s reinterpretation of the pavilion’s Palladian-style facade. A thatched roof and wooden columns cloak the stately architecture in reference to the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, which celebrated French dominance and extracted and exoticized objects, images, and materials of African cultures. The Jamaican woman hunched over a mirrored pool in “Last Garment,” a depiction Leigh originally discovered on a vintage postcard, similarly rebukes colonialism and the negative stereotypes it perpetuates.
Inside are additional figurative works, including the soaring, abstract bronze piece titled “Sentinel,” which has a wide, sloping head and echoes the squat “Satellite” at the exhibition’s entrance. Evoking the artistic traditions within Africa and of the diaspora, many of the pieces address questions and themes that recur in Leigh’s practice, although they extend her oeuvre, as well. As with her earlier works, cowrie shells make an appearance, emerging from a large, ceramic jug and resting atop a raffia dome in “Cupboard.” The standing bronze “Sharifa,” on the other hand, depicts Leigh’s friend, the writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and is the artist’s first portrait.
“In order to tell the truth, you need to invent what might be missing from the archive, to collapse time, to concern yourself with issues of scale, to formally move things around in a way that reveals something more true than fact,” she says in a statement about Sovereignty, adding in her opening remarks that, “Black women and Black people in general across the diaspora … We often are getting information from someone who had a different intention than we have.”
In addition to Sovereignty, Leigh’s monumental bust “Brick House,” which was stationed at the High Line through May of 2021, is included in the Biennale’s international exhibition The Milk of Dreams, on view through November 27. “Brick House” also won a Golden Lion, the exhibition’s highest award.
Share this story
New York-based artist Hugh Hayden (previously) visualizes the ways African traditions are embedded into multiple facets of American culture through a series of cast-iron skillets. Part of a larger exhibition titled American Food, the 26 pans are molded to reveal facial impressions that evoke West African-style masks, blending the cooking tool and cultural object.
Generally established by cooks who were enslaved, southern food includes many of the flavors, techniques, and ingredients prevalent in African cuisine, forming what Hayden sees as one of the foremost culinary traditions distinct to the United States. This direct impact is evident in the physical artworks—the expressive masks literally emerge from the pans—although it transcends the effects on the kitchen. As he writes about “The Cosby’s” (shown below) on Instagram, “I made this triptych as an homage to the indelible cultural impact of the African diaspora on the creation of American entertainment, food, industry, and society.”
Hayden creates the skillets through sand casting, a manufacturing technique that utilizes the granular substance as a mold, which the artist employs as a way to recognize “the imperfectness of the materials, their colonial histories, and the inherent loss of detail in the reproduction process.” He also parallels the sculpting process to the diaspora, considering how the original object is obscured and imbued with cultural significance when it’s finished. Ultimately, American Food celebrates “the indebtedness to African origins in the cooking—as a form of creation of America, Western culture, and Modern Art,” a statement says.
Share this story
In a new photographic series artist Ayana V. Jackson explores the colonial gaze and historical portraiture traditions. Figures, all played by Jackson herself, appear in classical poses, draped in fishing nets, glittering flip-flops, and elegant Western gowns of years past. Each figure is inspired by African and African Disaporic water spirits including Olokun, Mame Coumba bang, Kianda, Drexciya, Yenanja and Mamiwata.
A statement from Mariane Ibrahim Gallery explains, “Jackson has used the archival impulse to assess the impact of the colonial gaze on the history of photography and its relationship to ideas about the body. She uses her lens to deconstruct 19th and early 20th century portraiture as a means for questioning photography’s role in constructing identities.”
The artist, who is based between New York, Hong Kong, and Johannesburg, also had a solo show this year at David Klein Gallery in Detroit. Her work has been collected by the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Detroit Institute of Art, Museum of African Contemporary Art Al-Maaden in Marrakesh, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. Jackson was the 2018 recipient of the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.
This body of work is on view from September 20 – October 26, 2019 in Jackson’s solo show, Take Me to the Water. The exhibition is at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, which recently relocated from Seattle to Chicago. See more of Jackson’s photography on her website and Instagram. (via Artsy)
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.