Chaotic Facial Markings Express the Wildly Varied Emotions of Reen Barrera’s Imaginative Ohala Dolls
Growing up in the Phillipines in the 90’s, Reen Barrera would often repurpose scraps of fabric and wood into imaginative figures that became central to his play. The constructions were stand-ins for what the Filipino artist considers a “toy-deprived” childhood, and today, Barrera continues the visual language of those early sculptures in his recurring Ohala characters.
Often dressed in stripes and animalistic patchwork hoods, the wildly expressive figures are covered in a chaotic mishmash of symbols and patterns. Barrera likens these markings to the idiom “it’s written all over your face,” a concept that, similar to his earlier figures, continues to ground his practice. “Regardless of what we say, our true feelings can still be emancipated by our facial expressions,” the artist says. “For me, it’s a silent way of communicating something without noise.”
Barrera pairs this concern with fleeting emotion and more personal experience with larger themes about class and social standing. While some of the wooden figures are rich with colorful fabrics and splotches of acrylic, oil, and aerosol paints, others are more minimal. “One thing that I want to emphasize is the amount of detail each Ohlala artwork has. Like humans, some have little while some have more,” he shares, explaining further:
Some people are born rich, some are born middle class, some are born poor. But the common ground for everyone is, we all have to deal with it… I cover all the Ohlala dolls heads with canvas cloth to give a freedom to paint their own symbols on their heads, as if they are designing their own fate. I guess that’s what we all have in common; the power to make things happen for ourselves.
In a collaboration with Thinkspace Projects, Barrera’s solo show Children of Divorce is on view through January 15, 2023, at Mesa Contemporary Art Museum. For more of the artist’s works, visit his site and Instagram.
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Rather than portray the everyday objects that make up the routine of our lives as immovable or simply structural, Do Ho Suh (previously) captures their sentience. This is not to say that the objects around us are alive but that perhaps our familiarity with them holds a kind of energy to reflect on. In “Jet Lag,” for example, a light switch or a door is made of potently colored translucent fabrics. This invites the viewer to consider the feeling of and the attachment to these small, insignificant companions.
In “Inverted Monument,” Suh similarly captures the energy beneath the eye’s limits of a common object through the structure. What would typically be formed from concrete or some stubborn, weather-proof metal is comprised of adventurous red lines that better capture the materials’ complexity, and in this case, also its context. Again, Suh constructs a radical shift of perspective. An object characteristic of place, history, and the communities it’s formed around is constructed according to the messiness of memory and is turned upside down. The pedestal reaches for the ceiling, and the head sweeps the floor. This subtlety introduces enormous questions about not only the significance of the object and how we interact with it but why it got there in the first place.
See more of Suh’s time and geography-bending sculptures through October 29 at Lehmann Maupin in New York.
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Boxing gloves typically evoke associations with masculinity, competition, and aggression, but Zoë Buckman punches back with her series of mixed-media sculptures and embroidered textile pieces. Sometimes draped like bunches of dried flowers and other times balanced delicately on top of one another, they “question whether they are holding each other up or tearing each other down,” says a statement. Taking a feminist and activist approach to challenging preconceptions about gender, trauma, and safety, she became interested in the symbolic dualities of the gloves, both in the way they are made and used.
For the last few years, the glove sculptures have formed a focal point for a number of bodies of work that explore the relationship between strength and vulnerability. Buckman encases each form in fabrics like tablecloths, dish rags, or dresses, then suspends them in groups from ribbons affixed to metal chains. Installed at the height of a punching bag, they provoke tension between feelings of hostility and support, highlighting connections and contrasts between places where people exert intense energy and force, such as gyms, and places associated with calm and security, like home.
Constructed of cotton batting or polyurethane foam and covered in leather, traditional boxing gloves are malleable, yet the finished form is a solid instrument for force and protection. By wrapping each piece in fabric associated with womenswear or domestic settings, the artist challenges the notion of gendered spaces, such as the home being feminine or the boxing ring masculine. Through her use of materials, she also dissects gendered associations of fabric and textile.
Buckman has strongly advocated for women’s rights to abortion and bodily autonomy. In her most recent series Bloodwork, vintage handkerchiefs, doilies, and upholstery remnants provide the canvas for embroidered statements conveying responses to experiences of domestic abuse, illness, and hardship. As a revolt against negativity or oppression, figures of women—many of whom she knows personally—are portrayed in scenes of celebration or repose. The text and figures sewn into the fabric also appear unfinished with dangling threads and raw, asymmetrical edges in an ongoing state of transformation and becoming.
Buckman is exhibiting in We Flew Over the Wild Winds of Wild Fires at MOTHER Gallery in Beacon, New York, until September 18. She will also be presenting a solo show at London’s Pippy Houldsworth Gallery opening on September 2. You can find more information on the artist’s website and on Instagram.
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Japanese artist and designer Mariko Kusumoto (previously) shapes gossamer coral and sea creatures from soft fibers like polyester, nylon, and cotton. Embedded with tiny ripples or airy pockets, the standalone sculptures and wearables are translucent renditions of lifeforms, and their delicate compositions correspond with the fragility of the subject matter. The Boston-based artist tends to cluster the individual pieces into larger works, creating sprawling reefs and diverse ecosystems brimming with color and texture.
Kusumoto is currently preparing for a solo exhibition next November at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida, and until then, you can find more of her ethereal works on Instagram.
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Vibrant Textiles and Repurposed Eyewear Camouflage the Subjects of Thandiwe Muriu’s Celebratory Portraiture
From chunky hair beads and rollers to sink strainers and brake pedals, Nairobi-based photographer Thandiwe Muriu (previously) finds fashionable use for ordinary objects. Worn as glasses that obscure a subject’s identity, the repurposed items add cultural flair to Muriu’s vibrant portraits and are connected to both her background and Kenyan life, more broadly. Red fringe evokes the tassel that hung from her uncle’s Toyota Corolla, which transported the artist home from school each day, while the orange plastic drain catcher references the joy found in sharing chores. She explains:
In Kenya, when a group of friends meet, the women usually gather in the kitchen to clean up after the meal is done, and as is part of Kenyan culture, wash the piles of dishes by hand. This routine task suddenly becomes a moment of laughter and stories as the women mingle and bonds are reinforced…(The portrait) celebrates the African spirit of community as it turns humble sink strainers into bright circles of joy.
Shot against bold fabric backdrops printed with dizzying patterns, Muriu’s works conceal her subjects’ bodies under perfectly aligned garments, leaving only their heads and hands visible. The photographs are part of her ongoing CAMO series, which explores how culture both creates and consumes individual identities. Incorporating rich color palettes and traditional architectural hairstyles, Muriu celebrates her African heritage while questioning beauty standards and self-perception.
Some of the photographer’s portraits are on view this month at Photo London 2022 and at 1-54 Fair in New York. In July, she’ll have a solo show with 193 Gallery at the new Maison Kitsuné Gallery in New York, as well. You can explore the full CAMO series on her site and Instagram.
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Ebony G. Patterson’s multi-layered works are willfully superficial. The Jamaican artist weaves together a mélange of torn papers, tassels, appliqués, and feathered butterflies to create striking gardens replete with glitter and vibrant hues. “In many ways, I think of the work as the flower and the audience as the bees,” Patterson told Nasher Museum. “The bee is first attracted to the flower because of its color, but it’s not until you start peeling back the layers that you understand what’s happening with the nectar.”
Often set against wallpaper of her own design, Patterson’s mixed-media tapestries and smaller works are immersive and captivating, inviting study of both individual elements and how they interact. Hidden beneath the obvious allure of flora and fauna, though, are more complex, sinister messages of identity, violence, and death. Likened to “secret poisons,” these inferences relate to the anguish and perpetual mourning many women feel, and in her sprawling tapestry titled “the wailing…guides us home…and there is a bellying on the land…,” for example, feminine hands and limbs attempt to grasp for something beyond the entangled mass of jacquard and beads. “Each form bravely assumes a posture of distress, the onerous emotional and physical labor required to conduct acts of devotion, the soul care that grants permission to confront historic and inherited traumas,” a statement says.
Patterson lives and works between Kingston, Jamaica, and Chicago, and she’s included in multiple upcoming shows: What is Left Unspoken, Love opening on March 25 at the High Museum in Atlanta, a solo exhibition at Hales Gallery running from May 5 to June 18, and this November, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Until then, you can explore more of her elaborate works at moniquemeloche, where she’s represented.
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