Curated by Mickalene Thomas
David Castillo Gallery is proud to present tête-à-tête, a group exhibition in its sixth iteration curated by Mickalene Thomas.
Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Sidra Sitting, 2012, C-Print, 48 x 60 inches, Edition 1/5 with 2 AP, Courtesy of the artist and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
tête-à-tête poses a series of back-and-forth conversations across the photographic and video works of fourteen artists that address social, political and personal mythologies of the black body as constructed and represented in visual media. The work adheres to Ariella Azoulay’s concept of the civil contract of photography, which asserts the photographic image as a relational encounter between subject, photographer and spectator; that in the moment of looking, photographing and being photographed, each party has a responsibility to the informed participation of the other two. This civil contract shifts and reinforces power between the interconnected gazes of the image: the gaze of the subject within or beyond her frame, the gaze of the photographer through the camera’s lens, and the once-removed gaze of the viewer who comes to the image filtered through the artist. It is a coping strategy in the consumption and creation of often difficult and layered visual materials, aptly exercised here under the aegis of racial imagination and visibility in the United States.
One of the works in the show, Lyle Ashton Harris’s Gail and Alex, San Francisco, 1992 (2015) is one of thousands of images from the artist’s 35mm Ektachrome archives from 1986 to 1996, which capture intimate moments of Harris’ friends and lovers during the second wave of AIDS activism. The photographs mark an intersection between civil and gay rights movements at the end of the last century. Through Gail and Alex’s subtle smiles and kind eyes, the audience can readily see the camaraderie and spirit of community between subject and photographer. In shooting from below, Harris monumentalizes these women, forcing the viewer to look up at them as symbols of a time and movement revived today across overlapping activist platforms. Harris reaches into the past through his photographic archive as an allegory of history repeating itself.
Wangechi Mutu’s Shoe Shoe engineers social abjection. The video, a black and white Betacam short with the hazy look of CCTV footage, captures a performance where the artist dresses as a transient and travels down a short stretch of sidewalk, tossing shoes at the disembodied viewer watching through the camera. The title’s play on language—a homophone of the French term of endearment ‘chouchou’—humanizes the subject onscreen, and her apparent homelessness and instability.
Thomas’ Portrait of Sidra Sitting, challenges the etiquette of the reclining nude as an art historical genre after Titian, Giorgione, Goya, Ingres, and countless others; men whose authorial intent coerces their representations of female subjects into the demure propriety of their times. In many ways, the photograph makes visual allusions to Manet’s Olympia, and hybridly stands in conversation with African studio photographers—such as Sedyou Keita and Malick Sidibe—whose black and white portraiture documents colonial histories and their affects. The black body becomes a provocation and challenge of Manet’s already confronting painting. Like Olympia, Sidra looks beyond her frame and meets the eye of her viewer, possessed of herself; Thomas steps aside to allow her subject agency.
In extending her practice into curating, Thomas does the same beyond the frame of the photograph. She welcomes and aligns the work of her colleagues into thoughtful encounters, conceding her voice where their contributions might also articulate a perspective or experience. tête-à-tête is a timely conversation with nuanced inflections of tone about the power of images and how they transfix, subdue, inspire, and challenge us in constructing the black body.
tête-à-tête includes the work of:
Lyle Ashton Harris
Hank Willis Thomas
Carrie Mae Weems