For SOUTH SOUTH Commonwealth and Council presents a selection of work by David Alekhuogie, tracing the artist’s ongoing examinations of indeterminacy and ambiguity found within depictions of Blackness in Americana. In addition to images of his Pull_Up series, which consider coded perceptions of urban culture, a new body of work seeks to reclaim images of Blackness in the modern art history canon.
Printed on canvas and pinned loosely to their frames, Alekhuogie’s photographs of torsos with pants sagging ripple and swell, folds in the fabric echoing and merging with the images of creased clothing. The trompe l’oeil effect forces the viewer to question the boundaries of surface and image—flowers and foliage native and migrant to Los Angeles spill over the prints’ white margins, another trick of layering and superimposition. jefferson and normandie 34.0252° N, 118.3004° W (2018) obscures the body almost to the point of illegibility as if caught in passing, a tangle of shadows and blurred leaves conveying the impression of a camera struggling to focus on its target, or is it intentional camouflage? Contrasting with the ambiguity of subject and composition is a pair of images of the late rapper 2Pac showing his now-iconic tattoos. Where jefferson and normandie allows the body receding into the foliage, Alekhuogie’s homages to 2Pac—the West Coast rap legend who captured the imagination of young Black men not only with his frenetic swag but also by expressing his vulnerability, portending the poetic potential of the still-emerging musical genre—foreground the hypervisibility of the Black male body. And yet even here it is mediated, a deliberate blurriness that recalls a mosaic censor, speaking to the difficulty of perceiving the signs of Blackness without externally-imposed prejudice or preconceptions. The fugitive quality of Alekhuogie’s images reflect a construct that was developed by the white other, both real and not-real: a specter of fear and fetishization.
The works in the recent series “A Reprise” see Alekhuogie enacting a similar reconsideration of ubiquitous imagery through visual indeterminacy. Here, he takes on the legacy of western Modernism, in particular its pillaging, consumption and subsumption of African decorative arts. “A Reprise” revisits Walker Evans’s documentation of African Negro Art, the 1935 MoMA exhibition hailed as groundbreaking for its presentation of African objects as artworks, rather than anthropological artifacts. Alekhuogie identifies a parallel gaze in Evans’s famed photographs of the working poor during the Great Depression and his treatment of African objets d’art. Both establish their subjects as sites from which the viewer derives an expressivity, an unfettered depth of feeling, denied the privileged Other. In a reconstructive act Alekhuogie made plywood standees of Evans’ images, attempting to imbue dimension to the flattened depiction. The staging confounds the eye, much like the play of wrinkles and shadows in Alekhuogie’s earlier series. He resuscitates the source material; it is an effort to conjure the object’s existence outside of the trappings of Primitivism and white condescension. “A Reprise” is both proposal and reclamation—a humanizing gesture.
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