All posts in “In This Imperfect Present Moment”

Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Postures: In This Imperfect Present Moment

We read each other’s body language all day, every day. In the museum, surrounded by artworks depicting a variety of figures and movements, this instinct can be put to an international test of how well we understand gestures and postures. A walk through the galleries can simulate what it’s like to be in another country, where you don’t know the verbal language and need to navigate based on reading bodies.

In the exhibition In This Imperfect Present Moment, a person’s body is telling you to stop and recognize that their moment has come, and you are a vital participant. They are ready to talk. Which language are they likely to speak? Toyin Ojih Odutola was born in Nigeria, grew up in Alabama, went to art school in San Francisco, and now lives in New York. She’s given many insightful interviews that provide a sense of the conversation you might have with her about her work. For now, here’s just one quote: “I’m attracted to the understated in art: moments that can be quickly passed over, but are complex and layered. There’s nothing wrong with bombast, and the maximalist in aesthetic and presentation, and I often exploit those very qualities. But nothing beats the underwhelming, the quiet, the subtle. When you see the economy of line used so effortlessly—that always gets me, because it isn’t easy.”

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: In This Imperfect Present Moment, 2016, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Nigerian, b. 1985, charcoal, pastel, pencil on paper, 83 x 24 in., Private collection, © Toyin Ojih Odutola, photo courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. You are welcome, 2012, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Nigerian, b. 1985, pen, ink on paper, 11 x 11 in., Private collection, © Toyin Ojih Odutola, photo courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
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Athi-Patra Ruga’s Utopian Vision: In This Imperfect Present Moment

Utopian visionaries are rare these days. If Black Panther moved you to consider what might be possible in the future, there’s an artist who is opening a new portal into the world of possibilities to come and you can see their work at SAM right now as part of In This Imperfect Present Moment. Athi-Patra Ruga introduces characters from a mythical metaverse. You can see what this means in his performances, which are available online. His avatars wear high heels and balloons, ride zebras, walk down dirt roads or city streets, and occasionally swim upside down. He knows how to turn heads and get people to stare at unexpected visions. For this sculpture, he covers a neoclassical bust with beads, flowers, and gems to mock the usual stagnancy of a bronze-cast monument. He has stated that “our statues are an indictment of our poor imagination.” Calling this sculpture The Ever Promised Erection, Ruga says, “The humorous tone of the title points to the fallacy and impotence of the posturing of the nation-state.”

Ruga replaces the failed state with an ideal femme-centric futurist nation called Azania, inspired by rumors of an ideal Africa described in ancient American myths. You can get to know Azania and see their queens and territories by looking at his large-scale tapestries and videos. His tapestry maps record an Ocean of Repentance, where cleansing waters protect and surround islands inhabited by women. It takes a distinctive rigor to create and carry an entire nation in your mind. When meeting Athi-Patra Ruga, you sense him as someone dedicated to keeping his alternative world alive and well. He’s now about to open his first one-person exhibition in London at the Somerset House, and for those who crave utopian universes, Ruga can take you there.

– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.
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Lawrence Lemaoana’s Cloth Banners: In This Imperfect Present Moment

Laughing at leaders in public can be a welcome release. Lawrence Lemaoana created banners to shout back at the powerful president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. Zuma, who was a controversial leader, had many annoying traits. One of his most despised public maneuvers was a tendency to dance as if there were no problems in his midst, and then add the antagonism of raising his fist as a sign of victory. Observers groaned. Lemaoana said of this, “Once the raised fist was a symbol used to motivate the people for a public cause, but here Zuma uses it as a tool to enrich himself, to bolster himself against any criticism or interference.”

In another cloth banner, the artist mimics a newspaper announcing “Things Fall Apart.” As the artist said, “You get hit by those headlines on the side of the road. On the one hand, it’s informative, but it’s also dangerous; there’s almost a propagandistic element to it. It shapes the way we live.” His choice of a cloth known as kanga is another obvious clue of disapproval. When Jacob Zuma went on trial for rape in 2006, he claimed that the young woman wearing a kanga cloth wrapped around her was signaling an invitation to assault her. Lemaoana turned that assault right back at Zuma by making his banners from that cloth, and by offering a chance to laugh or express outrage at Zuma’s dangerous absurdity. See Lemaona’s work as part of In This Imperfect Present Moment at SAM through June 16, 2019, and experience this welcome release.

– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Newsmaker of the Year, 2008, Lawrence Lemaoana, South African, b. 1982, Cloth applique, 42 1/8 x 31 1/2 in., Private collection, © Lawrence Lemaoana, photo courtesy AFRONOVA GALLERY. Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Amy Sherald’s Archetypes: In This Imperfect Present Moment

Unless you’re looking at this image on a gigantic screen with perfect resolution, you’re missing the impact of this Saint Woman. She’s slightly larger than life, which fits the premise of the artist who elevates her subjects to a status that goes beyond our normal vision. Amy Sherald paints portraits that are not trying to convince you they are a substitute for the actual person. Instead, she paints archetypes. She is taking the time to change our minds about what a portrait can be, an evocation of a saint whose name you do not know, but who is standing and waiting for you to recognize them.

This saint is surrounded by a halo of what may appear as bright yellow on your screen. If you’re just seeing a flat expanse of color, you’re missing the depth of a painted surface that is full of nuance, with swirling dimensions that activate this setting. The same nuances of color are true of the skin, which is in variations of gray. Amy Sherald chose this color shift for a reason, “to exclude the idea of color as race.” She also has this woman’s body face forward, while her head is turned in profile. What captures her attention is unknown, and it challenges you to wonder why she’s holding herself so still while her dress is blown in a breeze of urgency. It’s the stance of a saint who’s worth coming to see in person. Visit her with a trip to see In This Imperfect Present Moment, an installation of artworks by 15 artists conveying vibrant narratives that resonate across global boundaries.

– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Saint Woman, 2015, Amy Sherald, American, b. 1973, Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in., Private collection, photo courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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