Midsumma at Blak Dot
Cecilia Kavara, Kamahi Djordon King, Léuli Eshraghi, Meera Sethi, Peter Waples-Crowe, Ranita Swamy, Renuka Rajiv, Sean Smith , Tama Kapura Favell, TextaQueen
January 18- February 3
By Chiara Scafidi
Blak Dot’s Midsumma exhibition introduces 10 artists into the space in an exhibition that uses design, print, media and sculpture to explore contemporary identity through the frame of the LGBT community.
Multifaceted identity is a clear theme in artist Meera Sethi’s work. Her print series describes young men, their faces and hands outlined and their clothes brightly lit by vivid colours in geometric designs. The works combine elements of Indian dress with that of American magazine style. For instance, the boy in Akbar sports a backwards sports cap and tapered curling shoes, he stares at us nonchalantly, recalling cool masculine gazes of male models in adds for sneakers/hats/watches/bags. The combination of Eastern and Western cultural signals perhaps draws on the artist’s own experiences of being an Indian born woman growing up in Toronto, while the juxtaposition of what is often associated with tradition with contemporary Western consumer culture creates a fun, humorous friction.
Similar themes of multifaceted identity are explored in the illustration work of Arlene TextaQueen. Her pencil illustration describes the profile of a woman, with hair swept aside to reveal an undercut, she stares fixedly out the side of the paper, her nose chain recalling traditional Indian jewellery, or possibly contemporary punk style, there is a confusion of cultural signals; is she wearing a veil, with skulls on it? The things that we wear act as signifiers of an image we want to project and TextaQueen keeps these signals purposefully ambiguous so that what we see is unstable and constantly shifting. The charms on the subject’s nose chain, among them a dollar sign, a crucifix and a wedding cake, perhaps symbolise the multitude of expectations and desires, pressures and loyalties an individual contains, these aspects of our nature can often come into conflict and I think TextaQueen has tried to show us that, despite this conflict, the internalisation of these aspects is what makes us the individual that we are, human nature is invariably an ambiguous, shifting and complex thing.
It was interesting to see the work of Kamahi Djordan King whom I recognised by association with his flamboyant alter ego Constantina Bush. King’s works are beautiful, providing a vibrant, contained and sometimes incredibly sensory experience as in Birds eye view wet season sunset. Works such as Lifeline provided an abstract counterbalance to the prominence of figurative work in the exhibition. While contributing to a greater theme of meditation on identity through the frame of a personal bodily journey that King creates in his works.
The body is a theme that recurs throughout the gallery, whether it be the journey we take with it, what we put on it or the ideas surrounding certain parts of it. Identity Negative by Cecilia Kavara is a fascinating video work that involves a figure covered, mummy like, in tape, we watch as over nine minutes they work furiously to extract themselves from the bright tape. They are covered in black underneath so that in the dim light of the projection space they appear to disappear into darkness. This fascinating video work proposes a multitude of flexible meanings; is Kavara suggesting that the removing of a white shell or persona to reveal a black self underneath will result in becoming invisible? Or is the tape that I saw really a bandage, which heals a wounded body? Or is she referencing the infamous scene where Claude Rains, as the titular Invisible Man, takes off his ‘disguise’ to the horror of his audience?
There are strong aspects of humour and playfulness to the exhibition that make it all the more accessible. The series of sculptural works by artist Ranita Swamy presented together have affectionately come to be referred to as ‘The Cunny Wall’ in the gallery. Swamy takes a playful look at deep seated ideas and imagery we associate with the vagina, the words we use in euphemism and metaphor are made flesh in her cheekily named (Thorny Devil, Saucy Scallop), evocative and sometimes delicately beautiful (Bird Bath) works.
A strong emphasis on design seems to bring the exhibition together as a whole. There are an abundance of prints, works with crisp, bold lines, stark black and white contrasts and vibrant solid colours evocative of magazine spreads. There are also the playful comic book stylings of Renuka Rajiv that recall observational and sometimes absurd renderings in zines. Overall this is a group of artists that have embraced media based art.
Midsumma at Blak Dot reflects a diverse and engaged artistic community, and though these artists came together separately without collaboration, themes of identity and journey, taboo and beauty emerge and are weaved together with humour, playfulness and a strong sense of the aesthetic.