THE HIGH: IMAGINING NEW WORLDS: WIFREDO LAM, JOSE PARLA & FAHAMU PECOU WITH MICHAEL ROOKS- CURATOR OF MODERN ART
Imagining New Worlds traces the lengthy career of Wifredo Lam (1902-1982), perhaps best remembered as a member of the Surrealist group in the 1940s. Born in Cuba to a Chinese father and mother of African and Spanish descent, Lam gave expression to his multiracial and cultural ancestry through a signature hybrid style of painting that blended Surrealism, magical realism, modernism, and postmodernism. The exhibition begins with the academic work made while studying painting in Madrid, and includes the fantastical mid-century canvases that incorporate figures from the syncretic religion Santéria. His work is informed by a cross-cultural fusion of influences such as Afro-Cuban symbolism and Negritude, a movement that rejected the French colonial framing of African identity.
Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) was a global figure whose work cut across stylistic and philosophical boundaries between and among established artistic movements of the 20th century.
Lam, like his native Cuba, was a product of many cultures. His multiracial ancestry found expression in his art as he engaged with the political, literary, and artistic circles that defined his century. He witnessed important historical events – the Spanish Civil War, the Nazi invasion of France, and the Cold War – and befriended key intellectuals and artists of the day.
The works in this exhibition reveal the imprint on Lam’s style of cubism, surrealism, magical realism, and other key artistic and philosophical movements of the twentieth century. Lam combined these ideas with an exploration of Cuban subject matter to create a hybrid artistic style that was distinctly his own.
Brooklyn-based artist José Parlá (born 1973) is a documentarian of urban life. Drawing upon New York City and many other locations for inspiration, he responds to the chaos and rush of the metropolis as a painter. Parlá made his first paintings on city walls while growing up in Miami, often under the cover of darkness. Parlá wrote of these early works, “My thought and impulse behind the gesture was as primitive as that of cavemen marking and drawing in their dwellings to assert their existence in a place and time.”
Parlá’s large-scale abstract paintings evoke impressions of the landscape as well as decaying walls along city streets, suggesting both an urban density and density in nature that evolve over time through an accumulative process. Layers of mark making on the surfaces of his work evoke transgenerational histories and memories.
Atlanta-based artist and scholar Fahamu Pecou (born 1975) pushes the boundaries of fine art and popular culture through his blending of performance and traditional visual media. Pecou is particularly engaged with the commonalities found within the intersections of Négritude – the mid-century movement by black Francophone intellectuals to create a black identity separate from that of their French colonizers – hip-hop, and Yoruba spiritual cosmology.
In both his performance art and painting, Pecou presents an alter-ego that operates as an intermediary within the fraught dynamics of black masculinity. A virtuosic painter, Pecou takes visual cues from the covers of vintage periodicals from the Johnson Publishing Company. The first black-owned publishing company, Johnson Publishing fought American stereotypes of blackness by showcasing a rising black middle class beginning in the 1940s. This body of work challenges the viewer to reimagine the roles individuals are asked to play in the production of art and culture.