Friday, February 26, 2016

Fabricated Fantasy Romanticism Shadowed By Disturbing Historical Trauma

Experimenting with remarkable deception and manipulating history is part of Fabiola Jean-Louis's cultivated master plan.
At Harlem School for the Arts, Fabiola Jean-Louis's Rewriting History: paper gowns and photographs is a breathtaking, suspenseful portrait survey. Surreal concept of Black Girl Magic poignantly address the artist's multifaceted heritage rooted in Afro-Carribean ancestry and puts past, present, and future on notice. Tongue in cheek with severe lashings in pretty bold packaging, rectangular gold frames contain impressive digitized prints that mirror hyper realistic historical paintings. Elaborately staged settings entail dark and moody environments. Palettes are as dramatic as noteworthy Romanticist/Rococo era painters Thomas Gainsborough and Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. There are no regal Marie Antoinettes or noble Queen Victorias implanted here. With curly coifs, braided updos, and pearled locs, women of color are dressed in fetching period costume, presented as beautiful, desirable ladies as important as positioned objects in their possession. Some images purposely interlace grisly accounts with interior frames and lieu of adorned flowers to lessen the merciless blow.

Madame Beauvoir's Painting, 24" x 31," archival pigment print, 2016.
Jean-Louis confronts the birth of white supremacy language, discloses the challenges and stigmas of colorism, and the centuries-long psychological damage of racial discrimination.
Madame Beavoir's Painting, masked in a heavy arsenal of froufrou fashion, initiates unsettling dialogue, obscuring idyllic fantasy and blatant reality in shocking orchestration. A woman draped in rich crinkled fabric and opulent jewelry stands before a framed image of a violently whipped figure, red particles deliberately splattered in small, intended doses. It is that of a slave. Slavery, though abolished in 1865, still remains an integral part of history, a bruise that can never be faded blemish. This beaten figure could have been this woman's ancestor, a great great great relative forever immortalized as indentured servant, as scientific beastly analysis.

Carrie Mae Weems altered version a similar archive photograph version in her From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried series. Chromogenic color print with sand-blasted text on glass.
 Madame Leroy, Conquistador, and Madame Beauvoir's Painting grace the walls with layered visual meaning.
Jean-Louis's unique portraiture-- truly provocative surrealism in advanced photography-- embarks on vulnerable paths impossible to bear away- both physically and emotionally. Artificial gold gilded frames and fanciful distinguished costumes are plot devices meant to allow viewer to become suckered in, become enthralled in materialistic grandness of ostentatious spectacle only to be delivered abrasive punch.
For example, Madame Leroy is a theatrical vision. Gloomy background enhances radiance of her skin, of her gold gown and its whispering rustles and bustles, and glint of luxurious jewels at her ear, wrist, and chest. She stares out into the viewer's vicinity, languidly fixated while poised in demurely classic gesture, her elegantly high box braided coiffure nearly reaching top of picture plane.

Madame Leroy, 24" x 31," archival pigment print, 2016.
Violin of the Dead, 22" x 29," archival pigment print, 2016.
The Color Purple, 22" x 29," archival pigment print, 2016.
Rest in Piece, 22" x 29," archival pigment print, 2016.
Rest in Piece goes beyond being diagnosed as a close up shot. This zooming exemplary portrait of Madame Leroy's dress, playing on painterly trompe l'oeil illusion tactics, amplifies old horrors stemming from ugly racism still refusing to die. Among threaded bead work and torn text bodice repeating words "historical," "Europe," and "geography," nestled inside ornate silver frame, propped against serene blue sky, hanging on a tree with budded pink rosebuds is a lynched figure with RIP grave nearby nestled in a thicket of wiry ground. It tells our tale well. To be taken under false sheltering wings of Eurocentric aesthetics yet not forgetting place of the brown body in the extent of Eurocentric gaze defines Rest in Piece's representation, the core of its meaning.
In black history, despite evidence of aggravated murder and malice, the mental and physical harm of the brown body, the gauntlet is rarely thrown. Lost victims and the grieving family of those victims are guaranteed no belief in a system that was never designed to protect them.
There serves no justice, no peace. Only piece. And that piece is knowledge of being wronged.

Coffee Dress, newsprint w/coffee stain, 5" x 7," 2015 in front of Passing, 40" x 60," archival pigment print, 2016.
Each paper costume that these magnificent characters have worn are displayed. Unbelievably layered craftsmanship, sewn with commendable skill and extreme dedication to detail, genuinely mimic fabrics down its thin, wispy mannerisms. To wear paper, a delicate, fragile thing that one can write narrative, is a deeply embedded metaphor, an allegorical context of the entire exhibit.

Louis iii, 4" x 5," pattern paper painted with acrylic, 2015 (bottom).
Jean-Louis's must experience, altering turbulent makeup of not-so-ancient history, has been extended to April 1, 2016. Please go if able.

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