Sponsored link
Monday, October 2, 2023

Sponsored link

ArtArt ReviewAmid community trauma, 'Elegies' at MoAD holds space for...

Amid community trauma, ‘Elegies’ at MoAD holds space for poignant beauty

Everyday objects take on meaning beyond the ordinary, bridging art history and contemporary culture to heal loss

In the glorious and probing exhibition Elegies: Still Lives in Contemporary Art (through August 21 at the Museum of African Diaspora), independent curator Monique Long’s poignant title mixes the lyrical mourning for the deceased with a haunting stillness, where the lack of motion alludes to the French translation of still life as nature morte—dead nature. In Long’s rich curatorial framework, the exhibition profoundly reverberates with innumerable traumas within Black communities, while also creating an expansive dialogue for beauty, jubilance, and banality. In particular, William Villalongo and Devan Shimoyama present works that symbolically balance the threads of life and death with sumptuousness and poetry.

William Villalongo, ‘Feast with Nkisi,’ 2021

In bridging art history and contemporary culture, Villalongo’s Feast with Nkisi (2021) makes strong references to 17th century vanitas painting. Historically, vanitases use fine silverware, glistening goblets of wine, and lavish tables of food to moralize about the futility of pleasure and the vanity of material excess, while cut flowers and skulls represents the unavoidability of death. Villalongo’s dazzling painting on velvet faithfully follows the vanitas form, but extends the genre to contemporary life with a gun, a liter of Olde English 8000 malt liquor, a pair of sneakers, and a Nkisi—a Kongo amulet or object for spiritual protection or communication with ancestors. Through a system of coding, Villalongo provokes questions about our values, what nourishes us, what do we pursue, and at what costs. 

Devan Shimoyama, ‘For Tamir VII,’ 2019

In the center of the gallery, Shimoyama’s For Tamir VII (2019) beautifully holds space for Tamir Rice, who at 12 years old was shot and killed by white police officer Timothy Loehmann while holding a replica toy gun at a playground. In Shimoyama’s sculpture, Rice’s horrific death is memorialized by two playground swings adorned with bright teal, royal blue, indigo, burgundy, crimson, and purple silk flowers. Amid the cacophony of color, shimmering glass balls fill the two belt swings, causing them to slightly bow and suggesting the weight of an unseen bodies. While the silk flowers possess a levity and delicateness, they also allude to funerary flowers; the haunting stillness of the swings evokes the lack of life: They should be animated with playing children.

Through lavish color, imagery, and materials, Villalongo and Shimoyama employ coded forms to address loss and healing. The splendor and visual enticement of their work encourages an act of deep looking, in which the artists have very intentionally selected what to make visible, how to represent it, and what to exclude. Considering that Long has framed Elegies as still lives, she creates a curatorial prompt that resists direct portraiture, and engages in a dialogue of symbolism and absence. With many of the artists finding inventive ways to invoke the body and self, the exhibition extends representation beyond figuration, which is fraught with questions about how Black bodies are represented and circulated within the African diaspora, the museum context, and in the wider culture. Moreover, subtly the exhibition positions absence as a form of grace, resistance, recuperation, and reflection for the self and communities of color.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Genevieve Quick
Genevieve Quick
Genevieve Quick is an interdisciplinary artist and arts writer. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, cmagazine, and Art Practical.

Sponsored link

Top reads

Best of the Bay 2023: City Living Winners

READERS' POLL: Best Salon, Best Bike Repair, Best Podcast, Best Hotel, Best Tour, Best Gym, more

Elon Musk helps Preston. Breed’s housing bill is back—and still facing opposition …

Plus a lawsuit against SFPD contains horrifying allegations of racism and homophobia. That's The Agenda for Oct. 1 to 8

‘Jeopardy!’ champ Amy Schneider does not want to be your favorite trans person on TV

On the eve of her appearance at Porchlight Storytelling's Litquake edition, the beloved game show guru and memoir author isn't holding back.

More by this author

Diurnal rhythms captured on fabric in Christopher Robin Duncan’s ‘SEASONS’

Months-long exposures tie viewers to the cosmos at Rebecca Camacho Presents

‘Spaghetti Blockchain’ pushes globalized culture into the fantastical

Mika Rottenberg's CJM show is like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' through the mind-spinning abstraction of labor and capital

Madonna bong, individualist protest signs offer sly balance at pt. 2 Gallery

Cliff Hengst and John DeFazio create glimmering look at queer histories and identities.
Sponsored link

You might also likeRELATED