Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art From Saint Louis

A new virtual exhibition partnership and series of online public programming, reimagined under the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The online exhibition will open on Monday, May 18, 2020, and run online through Sunday, August 2, 2020.

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Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art from Saint Louis is a group exhibition of works by Dominic Chambers, Damon Davis, Jen Everett, De Nichols, and Katherine Simóne Reynolds, five Black Saint Louis, MO-based artists. The exhibition presents painting, photography, mixed-media, works on paper, sculpture, and video.

Saint Louis is a U.S. city and region often publicly marked by racially restrictive covenants, redlining, urban renewal/Black removal, and 21st century anti-Black regimes. The exhibition asks: how do Black aesthetic practices emerging from that region abstract these structures? How might an attention to abstraction make aesthetic, geographic, and political space for Black presence and citizenship? Through meditations on leisure, the sonic and the mundane, beauty and care, quietness, and the urban and quotidian, these artists sit with, reimagine, and abstract possibilities for being, belonging, and togetherness.

Programming starts on Monday, May 18 at 5PM PT with a Virtual Opening for the Online Exhibition, and continues throughout May, June, and July 2020. Other events including pre-recorded artist Studio Visits (released over May 2020), a live/virtual Public Programming Artists Talk (Friday, May 29 at 3PM PT), and tours of the online exhibition and educational programming. Find the full program of virtual events, here: abstractions.black/events

Announcement:

The Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art from Saint Louis curatorial team has decided to cancel the live, Zoom Artist Talks Friday, May 29 at 3PM PT.

The Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art from Saint Louis exhibition and Seattle University's Hedreen Gallery remain committed to honoring the presence, artwork, questioning, imagination and labor of the exhibiting artists.

In lieu of a live event today, we encourage you to engage the online exhibition, virtual studio visit videos, and education guides. The exhibition will be online through August 2, 2020.

We will be in communication with registered attendees soon about our plans to reimagine this public program at another time. Thank you for your support and understanding in this time.

 

The exhibition is curated by Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud, Assistant Professor in Arts Leadership at Seattle University.

View the Exhibition

Virtual Studio Visits

Exhibition Events

The exhibition was originally scheduled to run at Seattle University's Hedreen Gallery during Spring Quarter 2020. Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, it has moved online and will open in May 2020 as a virtual exhibition and a series of public programming with continued sponsorship and support from the Hedreen Gallery, and Pigott Family Endowment for the Arts.

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About the Artists

Dominic Chambers makes large scale paintings and drawings--often with playful titles--marked by Black subjects in moments of leisure and imagination. He says how he: “initially [made] works on paper of young Black boys who could embrace their imagination, and in doing so they could be transported to other worlds, whether flower-filled or traditional landscapes where these supernatural beings could be there to acknowledge them. It's about embracing the Black imagination in one sense. My more current work, which is a series of monochromatic figurative painting, has people reading books. I’m trying to think about the idea of utilizing literature or reading as a transformative tool.” The exhibition features his work on paper I’ll Be Your Shadow, You Be My Shade, and two of his large scale paintings, Well, Well, Well (Chiffon in Green), and Moonlight Veil.


Interiority and (re)collection catalyze Jen Everett’s sculptural and photographic work. The exhibition includes works from Everett’s photographic series Redoubled, Something We Carry. In it, Everett collects, gathers, repeats, manipulates, crops, and otherwise re-arranges photographs of Black people, families, and communities to “complicate what you might initially see with the photographs.” As Everett has said, “collection and reconfiguration … underpins my practice as a whole.” Collection also animates Everett’s sculptural work in Unheard Sounds, Come Through, in which she arranges collected objects such as records and speakers to reconceptualize private interior home spaces, and make space for Black interiority. She says: “I was thinking a lot about the spaces and homes, rooms that Black people inhabit -- private spaces where people feel comfortable and kind of just free. That's what I'm trying to get at in the sculptural work: the idea of an interior space, even though I'm presenting it in a public way, because it is art that people are viewing. But I'm trying to get at that notion of a place where you feel unencumbered by this idea of representation or having to perform.”


Widely known as a post-disciplinary artist whose work spans visual art, filmmaking, graphic art, and music, Damon Davis is a storyteller whose works shown in this exhibition tell stories of mythology, politics, protest, glory, and love. This includes Reclamation--the title of a group album Davis produced, and contributed visual work. He says: “when I think of Reclamation it is literally reclaiming the decay and turning it into something else, turning it into something more living and alive. ... The glorification of it is the fact that this is what I've got to work with and look at how well I'm working it.” Other works shown includes two mixed-media pieces from Negrophilia, photographs from 08.23.08 (images from a 2008 Obama/Biden rally in Springfield, IL) and from Interview with Reggie, and excerpts from his children’s graphic novel The Bull, The Boar, The Wasp, and The Ant. He says: “How I tell my story, how I put the story together is solely up to me. I found the most power and freedom in how I abstract the stories that I tell and what level of abstraction I use.”


A designer and social entrepreneur, De Nichols makes civically engaged work that archives personal and political moments through text, movement, and geography. This exhibition includes Black Notes, the mixed media series with probing questions, thoughts, and provocations written upon Black-colored sticky notes, and Protestimonial, a video installation that centers the protests in Ferguson, MO in 2014. Nichols says: “activating our citizenship as Black people and doing it within our blackness is one of the biggest conflicts in our nation, that we still have not yet been fully accepted as citizens. There haven't been many moments where we've been able to have citizenship without our blackness being contested. ... The fact that it's hard to exist in America as a Black person without being targeted: and maybe not necessarily always by police, it's hard to get by the suspicions of the people around you at large. There's a lot that is represented in Protestimonial, in terms in these moments of protest, and hearing for myself how citizenship, how Blackness, can really come together beautifully in the ways that our mainstream media will not tell and will not show.”

The Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art from Saint Louis curatorial team has decided to cancel the live, Zoom Artist Talks event scheduled for this afternoon.

 

The Abstractions of Black Citizenship: African American Art from Saint Louis exhibition and Seattle University's Hedreen Gallery remain committed to honoring the presence, artwork, questioning, imagination and labor of the exhibiting artists.

 

In lieu of a live event today, we encourage you to engage the online exhibition, virtual studio visit videos, and education guides. The exhibition will be online through August 2, 2020 at http://abstractions.black/.

 

We will be in communication with registered attendees soon about our plans to reimagine this public program at another time. Thank you for your support and understanding in this time.


The keloid--that irregular fibrous scar tissue--animates new sculptural work by Katherine Simóne Reynolds. Known for photography, works on video, and choreography, Reynolds often engages themes of fashion, beauty, iconography, celebrity, and care rituals. Reynolds says: “I was thinking of a kind of beauty supply store, and I started seeing these edge growth creams. It started making me think about growth. Then I started thinking about what is growth that is perceived as bad or not useful? I started thinking about keloids and over-healing, and this concept of over-healing or even the suture element of keloids, how it actually ties skin together to make sure it does heal, but the over-healing of highly melanated skin. So that was something that was interesting to me in relationship to Saint Louis and after the Ferguson protests and just in general. It's not necessarily about post-Ferguson, because it's always been. It's not just one instance. It's like the whole city of Saint Louis just constantly needing to heal. So there's this over-healing or even lack of sensitivity ... because sometimes with keloids, things can be hyper-sensitive as well as lack a sensitivity within the skin.” For this exhibition, Mending Keloid 1, Mending Keloid 2, and Mending Keloid 3 accompany the photographic work Self Portrait, and Face Mask, a face covering sculpture made from molasses that asks questions of care rituals, sweetness, minstrelsy, and global political economic production.

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About the Exhibition


Themes of the exhibition’s title, Abstractions of Black Citizenship, situate these artists’ works. Abstraction as a concept centers ideas; as an aesthetic practice abstraction decenters representation, and often indexes abstract expressionism, the post-WWII aesthetic movement marked by non-figurative paintings which were often attached to white male artists working in New York City. Thus abstraction has never been purely aesthetic, but rather always also political, racial, temporal, and geographic. This exhibition reconsiders abstraction so: as an aesthetic form, but also as a geographic and temporal form emerging from the early 21st century Saint Louis MO/IL region, and doing so amidst endless anti-Black political regimes therein.

Abstractions of Black Citizenship also critically follows a host of exhibitions over the past decade that centered questions of Blackness (racially, politically, and aesthetically) through abstraction. These include Blackness in Abstraction curated by Adrienne Edwards (2016, Pace Gallery, New York, NY); Blue Black curated by Glenn Ligon (2017, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Saint Louis, MO); Out of Easy Reach curated by Allison Glenn (2018, various locations, Chicago, IL); 1919: Black Water curated by Irene Sunwoo (2019, Columbia University, New York, NY); Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art curated by Christopher Bedford and Katy Siegel (2019-2020, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD); and The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection curated by Gretchen L .Wagner and Alexis Assam (2019-2020, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO). Collectively these exhibitions ask the question prompted by the Blackness in Abstraction curator Adrienne Edwards, who wrote, “In response to the demands placed on Black artists for social content in their art I put forward Blackness in abstraction,” to ask “how [do] artists negotiate and exhaust the paradigm of Black representation in visual art”?

In those abstracted black aesthetics, their work--as cultural theorist Salamishah Tillet has suggested--provides a central place to conceptualize and articulate what Black citizenship might be, especially amidst regimes of anti-Black racism. Also pivotal: art historian Faye Gleisser’s thinking on how abstraction deeply entwines with, as it also aesthetically juxtaposes to, figuration, as abstraction is “the form that has accrued its own associative ‘look;’” and “has a complex relationship with figuration, since every portrait, is a translation.

Thus, this exhibition--even as some works in it are figurative--asks: how do these artists use dimensions of abstractions to imagine within and beyond the raced, political economic, and geographic structures posed by Saint Louis? The answer is found in the thematic (interiority, sonic, beauty, leisure, urban, quotidian), in each work’s materiality, and in centering the artists’ voices and ideas, alongside their work. Ultimately, this exhibition uses abstraction--as an aesthetic, geographic, and political conceit--to capture how Black aesthetic practices emerging from Saint Louis region interrogate the region’s civic structures, and reorchestrate aesthetic, geographic, and political space for Black imagination, presence, and citizenship within and beyond those structures.

Quotes above from exhibition artists and from Faye Gleisser are based on interviews conducted by Jasmine Mahmoud from February to May 2020.

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Artists Bios

 

 

 

 

 

IMAGES: For high resolution images, and the full press kit, please contact Molly Mac at macmolly@seattleu.edu.

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GALLERY ACCESS AND DIRECTIONS: 

Hedreen Gallery is a street facing gallery in the Lee Center for the Arts. The entrance is at the north end of the building. Doors are unlocked and phones are answered during gallery open hours (1-6pm Wed-Saturday) and during theatre productions. 2 Hour Parking is available on the street and visitor parking is available in Seattle University parking lots

Hedreen Gallery is wheelchair accessible. For questions about accessibility or to request accommodations please contact Seattle University Galleries Curator Molly Mac (macmolly@seattleu.edu). One week notice of need for accommodations is requested.

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Lee Center for the Arts (CNFA)
901 12th Avenue, between Marion and Spring | 206-296-2244
Open: Wednesday through Friday 1:00-6:00 PM

2 Hour Parking is available on the street and visitor parking is available in Seattle University parking lots.
The Hedreen Gallery is wheelchair accessible.

For questions about accessibility or to request accommodations please contact Seattle University Galleries Curator Molly Mac. Two weeks advance notice of need for accommodations is requested.