What does it mean to be silenced, to disappear, to be labeled, to be misunderstood? What does it mean to know only part of a story? Jamal Cyrus’s canvas resembles sheet music or text with ostensibly confidential—or perhaps merely controversial—sections redacted, referencing state-sanctioned efforts to remove information and thereby potentially alter histories. Does the removal of information keep us safe, or does it keep us silent?
Zanele Muholi, the subject of her own portrait, nearly disappears into the background foliage, visible by the whites of her eyes, which gaze powerfully at the viewer. Hevi, Oslo is a declaration of Muholi’s beauty (and her strength) as a black queer South African woman. Wearing an Afro, covering her breasts, and melding into nature, she dares us to conjure stereotypes of black women, of the “exotic other.” What can we know of someone from a single image, after all? How many assumptions do we make before we realize we have made them?
While Muholi disguises her nudity with her arms, Garduño’s sitter displays her body in a gesture of pride and power as she opens her arms in greeting. Yet she is not a sensuous model intending to please; she remains in total control, delicately veiled by floral imagery, symbols of beauty and femininity. Muholi and Garduño offer two views on the female body, each at once displaying both strength and fragility. All three artworks ask: How much can we know based on what we see? How much truth can an image offer?
From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)