Hear “Old Boys’ Club,” and you think of wealthy, white men, in a fraternity that excludes others. Gay people, poor people, women, people of color: not welcome. Choose Old Boys’ Club as your moniker—as has the artist with a show called Syncretism at the San Francisco’s Marrow Gallery (through Sat/28) and you’re laying out your interest in examining oppression and the dynamics of power.
After attending San Francisco’s California College of the Arts, Old Boys’ Club or OCB is living in her native France. The show at the Marrow on Irving at 7th Avenue, her first solo show in the United States in 10 years, is a collection of works from her ongoing series titled Prophets.
The artist began that series, originally shown in a renovated church, the Chapelle St Jaques Contemporary Art Center, after coordinated Islamist terror attacks in France on November 13, 2015—gunmen shooting into a crowd of fans at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theatre, people shot while out eating and drinking in downtown Paris, and three suicide bombers at the Stade de France during a soccer game between Germany and France. These attacks killed 130 people and wounded hundreds. (Earlier that year, gunmen killed 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine.)
On her website the artist wrote “I feel the need to produce a work where I could be able to talk about religions, all kind of religions, with tenderness, joy, and humor. I insist on the word « tenderness », since I think it is important that artist embrace religious subjects, even without being religious, meaning that belief, mysticism, devotion, should not be only talk by the voice of religious people or so-called civilization journalists.”
The work in the show borrows from iconography from traditions and parables from around the world. Marissa Patten, the founder of Marrow, says a lot of the work has sly humor, pointing to a work the artist made after hearing a story about Muhammad, who loved cats, having one fall asleep in his lap. He took off his clothes and left rather than disturb the cat. The drawing is also a clever way of showing Muhammad without showing his face.
Other works include a seated female figure with a fox mask called Renard (meaning fox but also vixen: Reynard the Fox was a popular character in Medieval European folktales, and there a sacred fox entity exists in Japanese Shinto); a shaggy figure with no face named Ganache, which Patten says means grumpy old man as well as a chocolate, and is also representative of death; and a dancing figure naked except for a mask and pink underwear, called Kunley, a divine madman in Tibetan tradition who Patten says, promotes enlightenment through debauchery.
The figures with their detailed costumes and masks, often of animals, promotes unity of human experience by using visual language from around the world, Patten thinks. “All of the figures she’s presented here have little stories,” Patten says. “All of these religions are basically teaching the same thing—love and peace and humor and an open mind.”
SYNCRETISM runs through Sat/28 at Marrow Gallery, SF. More info here.