Sponsored link
Sunday, March 26, 2023

Sponsored link

ArtArt Review'Dismantling Monoliths' poetically highlights the right to turn yourself...

‘Dismantling Monoliths’ poetically highlights the right to turn yourself away

Curator Jamil Hellu and artists' show at SF Camerawork balances intimacy, consent, and restraint.

In “Dismantling Monoliths” at SF Camerawork (through March 25), Jamil Hellu has thrillingly curated an exhibition that profoundly intersects with his communities and artistic life. As Hellu collaborates with LGBTQ+ BIPOC community members in his own photographic works, the exhibition creates a curatorial stage for artists and collaborators to self-represent. 

While the exhibition’s title “Dismantling Monoliths” is evocative, the real power of the exhibition is not in destruction or a breaking-down, but in the grace of collaboration and a poetic refusal, protection, and consent. Many photographs feature individuals looking away from the camera or not making their faces visible; the exhibitions explores the subtle politics of being seen, recognized, and represented.

Video still of Xandra Ibarra’s ‘Turn Around Sidepiece’ (2018) at SF Camerawork

The gesture of not returning the gaze is most prominent in Xandra Ibarra’s “Turn Around Sidepiece” (2018). In the looped video, the unclothed artist sits atop an unusual slowly rotating boulder. As the boulder spins, she repeatedly turns her body so that her face is never directed at the camera. With the continuous motion of boulder and Ibarra awkwardly repositioning her body, viewers become acutely aware of the labor involved in not returning the gaze. Ibarra creates a tension between the exposed body and the concealed face, where the artist defines her vulnerability and sexuality. 

In “Untitled (self)” (2018), Aaron Turner presents a black-and-white photograph of a hand holding a broken mirror. Rather than seeing the artist’s face in the mirror, viewers see fragments of a vintage photograph of a young Black man in formal attire. As Turner’s work explores representations of seminal Black men in history, the artist creates a lineage of images that might mirror himself. Intriguingly, the hand mirror also suggests the intimacy of personal grooming, where privately one might attend to hair, makeup, and shaving before entering public space. While viewers never see Turner’s face, the artist explores the terrain between private and public visibility that extends through history.

Aaron Turner, ‘Meanings of the past’ (2020). Instalation photo by Allyson Huntsman

Expanding upon this theme of representing self amongst or through communities, Marcel Pardo Ariza presents four portraits installed in front of a wall-sized print of ropes against an orange background. Hung at various levels, the photographs mirror the tension and precariousness of the ropes. Unclothed and with whips, the portraits speak to BDSM, where communities explore intimacy, sexuality, and collaboration. In photographing the backs of individuals embracing, Ariza makes their community seen and highlights the consensual balance between tenderness and restraint. 

As historical representations of otherness have been at times calculated and coercive forms of knowing or recording, “Dismantling Monoliths” showcases artists and individuals in the process of self-representation. As many of the works deny viewers access to the individual’s faces, the works probe a subtle distinction where not returning the gaze is not necessarily a process of hiding or defiance. Poetically, these artists suggest that looking elsewhere, not at the viewer can be a collaborative gesture of consent and care.

DISMANTLING MONOLITHS runs through March 25 at SF Camerawork, Fort Mason, SF. More info here.

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

Sponsored link

Top reads

Supes hearing misses the point on homelessness

Mandelman seeks radical change in policy away from permanent housing while poverty and neoliberal capitalism take a back seat.

UCLA’s secretive neoliberal housing conference

It's worse than Davos: A one-sided policy event with no dissenters—and no reporters unless they sign gag orders.

The massive fiscal crisis nobody at City Hall is talking about

San Francisco can fund less than ten percent of its critical infrastructure needs under self-imposed property-tax limits

More by this author

From Trump to tenderness, Gillian Laub’s ‘Family Matters’ explores reaching out

At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the photographer documents turbulent years in her family and country

Artist, mother, wife, and cat: SFMOMA Joan Brown retrospective celebrates a shapeshifter

Beginning within the Bay Area Figurative Movement, Brown's career defies simple classification.

New Institute for Contemporary Art kicks off with Jeffrey Gibson’s vibrant ‘This Burning World’

Bold patterns and dreamy imagery point to questions about the complexities of identity and a threatened ecology
Sponsored link

You might also likeRELATED