The figures in William Villalongo’s portraits mostly consist of a tumult of white negative space cut out of black velour paper. The shapes in the swirling, particulate cloud made to represent the body are odd, organic silhouettes that might be leaves and branches. In fact, Villalongo hints at that reading in three of the pieces in his exhibition Keep On Pushing at Susan Inglett gallery: the collages in the Free, Black and All American (2017) series, in which a bird hovers around or has settled on a chaotic pile that comes together enough to register as a person’s head. When looking at those pieces, and most others in the show, the question I’m faced with is: How does this body cohere? Asked another way: What unites these diverse forms into what I recognize as a body?
The work provides the answers. Anchoring each maelstrom are the body parts most evocative of agency: (brown) eyes that are the putative windows of the soul, (dark brown) hands that give us the ability to both invent tools and utilize them, and (dark brown) feet that make us mobile, so that we are not perpetually tied to whatever fate we were born to. Given these clues, I know I am dealing with a black body presented as an iconic object, all magpie disarray, but forming an intelligible whole.
But besides the appendages and organs, Villalongo also alludes to methods of socialization to show us what keeps the black body together. For example, there are the demands and responsibilities of a profession, as in the collage “Corner Office” (2017), where the figure has a white-collar job that entails sitting at a pristine desk accessorized by only a computer and a single skyscraper visible over his shoulder. The body is also held together by the requirements of social events, as in “Black Tie Affair” (2017), where the face is just that cut-out filigree, plus the eyes, hands, and a bow tie.
Most of all, Villalongo suggests that it’s history that shapes the black body. In “Free, Black and All American no. 2,” the figure’s hands hold up a sign that reads “250 yrs slave; 152 yrs free.” This historical circumstance helps to make the black body just that: a black body — a heavily theorized, discursive construction that is pulled in several opposed directions at once: authenticity, fake-it-til-you-make-it performance, violence and conscientious objection to it, Christian religiosity and pre-modern belief systems, sexual delight and sexual revulsion. The list goes on. The key point here is that our shared history of slavery, of institutionalized violence and debasement, as destructive as it has been, is also constitutive. In addition to one’s occupation, mode of dress, or manner of speech, dark-skinned bodies in this time and place share this history and the resilience it has forced on us. Thus our bodies, while being schemes of competing claims, refuse to fly apart.
Some museums are opting for new language to describe the preserved individuals in their collections who were once living humans.
Presented by Northwestern’s Block Museum and McCormick School of Engineering, this new exhibition seeks empathy at the boundaries of life. On view in Evanston, Illinois.
Located in Des Moines, Iowa, this residency for emerging and established artists includes studio and living space, a $1,000 monthly stipend, and more.
As art history buffs on the app have pointed out, both movements attribute meaning to the meaningless.
Multiple posts about the film have been taken down on Twitter, many of them following the government’s removal requests.
This week, blonde hair supremacy, Salman Rushdie’s new novel, and why do boutique shops all look the same?
Fayneese Miller is under fire after the school failed to renew the contract of an adjunct who showed artworks depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
Fully-funded teaching assistantships are standard for MFA students at the top-ranked, flagship research university in the state of New York.
Hundreds of visitors were evacuated from the Incan site over the weekend.
The artist’s works resonate in West Texas, where the story of dehumanized and exploited migrant laborers is tangible and ever-present.
A posthumous show of Price’s work is curated by James Hart of Phil Space, the self-proclaimed “gallerist of death.”
She has raised generations of Bay Area artists and changed the local landscape with her public artworks, colleagues tell Hyperallergic.