Codify Art, in collaboration with the Harlem School of the Arts, is pleased to present Revision: Translating Histories, a group exhibition of works by Nathalie Jolivert, Aqeel Malcolm, Oluseye, and Shaina Yang. This exhibition will be on view from April 12–June 2, 2018, with the opening reception on Thursday, April 12, 6–8PM.
In historiography, the term “Historical revisionism” identifies the practice of re-interpreting orthodox views of historical events, from assumptions around the motivations of participants, to the introduction of new evidence. Revision: Translating Histories extends revisionism to personal symbologies, to examine how these signifiers are translated, codified, and questioned through the artists’ experiences. Both past events and imagined futures are denatured across multiple retellings, a generations-long game of Telephone where each recipient passes the dominant narrative through their own filters to create increasingly specific interpretations. At each nexus, the listener becomes the teller; they inherit an open document to honor, challenge, or subvert—and in the process, convey a story that gets closer to their truth.
Originally from Port-au-Prince and now based in Brooklyn, Nathalie Jolivert examines the patterns and stratifications of Haitian migration through graphic, stylized paintings reminiscent of travel posters and architectural signage. Her “Carnet de Voyages” series juxtaposes the aspirational imagery of flight advertisements with allegorical commentary on the risks of movement for most Haitian citizens, for whom a plane ticket would be an impossible expense. “La Sirène,” the mermaid spirit of the sea in Haitian vodou, is a recurring motif, both as a threat to those who attempt to escape poverty or disaster by boat; and as a figure of memory, trapped in a water glass in a Manhattan cafe as Jolivert’s mind turns from her meal to the tap-tap buses of a different commute.
Aqeel Malcolm’s Deconstructing the Barber-Cape takes apart, then weaves together, the barber cape, a stand-in for the barbershop as a locus of black masculinity. Examining the performative potential of a simple—yet highly recognizable—piece of nylon-polyester, Malcolm enters this fraught space as runway, as tapestry, as craft, reclaiming the familiar drape in service of a vision of the black male inseparable from his queerness.
Drawing from Yoruba culture—its sculptures, mythology, beliefs and the angular facial features of its people— Oluseye embraces and merges the physicality and the spirituality of the black male form. The works on view position Catholic symbolism in Oluseye’s work, as an autobiographical tool referencing the co-existence of Yoruba traditions and Christianity in his upbringing and self-actualization. This interplay of Yoruba and Christianity charts the survival of Yoruba spirituality over the Middle Passage via its strategic nesting within Christian practices and echoes the current fascination with Yoruba in popular culture. The works’ narratives are further complicated by the juxtaposition of Christianity against the homoeroticism evoked in Oluseye’s portraits. He interrogates Christianity’s complex history with homophobia, and its deployment as a colonial tool against indigenous ways of being and frameworks for gender performance. Oluseye’s work offer multiple points of reference for understanding tradition, multiple indigeneities and contemporary lives.
Through intricate and fluid figurative compositions, Shaina Lee-Shuan Yang invokes the body-as-vessel and its requisite symbols, points of connection, and liminal spaces. Yang’s drawings and paintings reflect the superstitions of their Taiwanese family, using the number 31—the number of strokes in Yang’s Chinese name and a corresponding good luck counter—to render each figure or to determine the number of figures in the composition. Sensitive to the precarity of visibility and the shared experiences of existence, Yang questions both infinite solitude and infinite community through rituals created over the course of their queer, first-generation American experience.
Codify Art is a multidisciplinary QTPOC artist collective dedicated to creating, curating and producing work by artists of color, particularly women, queer, and trans artists of color. Codify believes that the existing vocabulary of the arts is inadequate for engagement with the stories of marginalized groups; in response, they create and claim space to collectively build an alternative, inclusionary language. Their output spans art exhibitions to evenings of performance to publications to networking events for the Q/T/W/OC community. Codify Art is Jarrett Key, Jon Key, Son Kit, Sharina Gordon, and Leandro Zaneti and is based in Brooklyn, NY.
For more information, contact HSA Art & Design Director Adrienne Tarver at atarver[at]hsanyc[dot]org