This October, we are pleased to present On Refusal: Representation & Resistance in Contemporary American Art, an exhibition featuring new and recent works by artists Paul Stephen Benjamin, Elliott Jerome Brown Jr, Aria Dean, Troy Michie, Arcmanoro Niles and Sable Elyse Smith.
Proposing the body as a site of political enquiry, On Refusal explores a (re)turn to figuration in the practices of a generation of artists currently working out of the United States, and examines the political impetus for this (re)investment in the body and notions of embodiment as a subject of art in the context of contemporary America.
Specifically, the exhibition highlights the ways in which the six featured artists trouble, and in many ways collapse, historical traditions of bodily representation, and ultimately how – each in very different ways – their works use representations of, or allusions to, the body as a vehicle for thinking through resistance: for imagining other possible futures and other modes for living.
In particular, this exhibition will engage these works within a discourse of ‘refusal’; framed here as both an act of protest and a generative process of renewal. By identifying three dominant visual modes, or artistic strategies – Opacity, Liquidity and Rupture – the exhibition will surface linkages between aesthetic, poetic and political modes of refusal in the work of these artists in an effort to think through their various aesthetic interventions in the present, and visions of the future. Opacity (to become opaque, fugitive, to turn away, disguise or camouflage), Liquidity (to take on the characteristics of liquid, to flow and to overflow), and Rupture (to sever, breach, disrupt) are offered up as a kind of visual vocabulary of resistance; tools that we might use to unpick these works of art and their representations of bodily vulnerability, protection and potential.
In this very tumultuous moment in time in the United States, and across the world, when civil liberties are so at stake, the imperative of this exhibition is to trace what artists are saying, and what their work might have to offer in helping us to imagine possibilities for living differently. Engaging issues of race, gender, sexuality and class, the works in this exhibition speak to systems of oppression that are, in one sense, particular to United States; especially the institutionalised, quotidian nature of the violence enacted upon black bodies in America. Yet, the manner in which both violence and resistance become encoded upon the body takes on new significance in the context of Northern Ireland; a society whose own identity is bound up in a history of colonisation, civil conflict and the very particular trauma of a state sanctioned violence against its citizens.
In this moment of extreme political fracture in the UK, and in the context of a renewed debate around border politics in Northern Ireland and the country’s continued lack of basic human rights by comparison with the rest of the UK, this exhibition seeks out the potentials of thinking with these artists and through their artworks to see what parallels, and possibilities, might emerge across these trans-Atlantic contexts.
Image credit: Troy Michie, Ojitos, 2018, Archival Inkjet Print. Image courtesy the artist and Company Gallery, New York.