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Reconstructing Identities

Sonya Clark, April D. Felipe, Roberto Lugo, Jiha Moon, Wendy Red Star

Fowler Kellogg Art Center, Chautauqua Institution

June 26 - July 30, 2019

Howard Halle, Representation Core of “Reconstructing Identities”, Chautauquan Daily, July 27, 2019

Wendy Red Star, Winter - Four Seasons, 2006, archival pigment print on photo paper

Curatorial Statement:

Wit, vibrant color, the sparkle of sugar – these tactics disarm us and draw us into the work. We soften and become ripe for the message. The artists in Reconstructing Identities offer the viewer a carefully crafted blend of their own cultural traditions, both past and present. They re-tell the stories embedded in our collective American histories. From each particular story we could extract a unified message: to embrace hybridity; to be open to new interpretations of what we think we know; and to let our perceptions unravel, making way for a collective story woven by many different hands.

These artists challenge our perceptions of truth and representation. Who gets to be represented in art? Through what lens and before whose gaze? These works question the ways in which different American cultures have been represented historically. They offer new strategies and personal perspectives. Wendy Red Star decolonizes photography, critiquing the way in which Native Americans have been portrayed with romanticized inaccuracy. Jiha Moon collages text from fortune cookies with hand painted landscapes and pop culture references. Sonya Clark deconstructs common materials and their meanings, imbuing textile techniques with color theory, black hair truths, and re-mixed Americana.  Roberto Lugo combines painting with ceramics, fusing the motifs of Italian Della Robbia and Classical Greek pottery with contemporary portraits of himself, political activists, and hip-hop icons. April D. Felipe also uses the ceramic medium to discuss her mixed Caribbean heritage, as she builds a surreal patchwork of bold pattern, gestural human form, and delicate texture.

From the inflatable animals in Red Star’s Four Seasons photographs to Abraham Lincoln with an afro made from Sonya Clark’s hair, humor courses through the veins of this exhibition. It offers both levity and satirical critique of their subject matter. While these artists visually deconstruct their own cultural stereotypes, they remind us to examine our complicity in building them. We see these works and experience an immediate feeling of familiarity, because we have all seen these symbols represented in our material culture. At the same time, those symbols alone offer an incomplete picture of the complexity of human experience.

Our increasing access to knowledge and communication have built a new world in which our cultural identities constantly overlap and hybridize. This requires deeper levels of understanding and discussion as we come to terms with who are individually and as part of a larger community. The artists in Reconstructing Identities celebrate the nuances of their identity in ways that speak to each other and across disciplines. These convergences and complications make the work even more poignant.

-Erika Diamond

Assistant Director of Galleries

Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution