LOS ANGELES — Earlier this year, the Welsh musician, Cate Le Bon released “Home to You,” a dreamy, disorienting piece of psych-pop that probed the meaning of “home” divorced from its usual white picket, flag-waving signifiers. In place of warm beds and hot cocoa, the “home” Le Bon conjured was vivid, surreal, and full of longing, a patchwork of images that ranged from charmingly off-kilter to eerie and disquieting. “Home to you is a neighborhood in the night kitchen” Le Bon sighed over chiming marimbas, “Home to you is atrocity in the town.”
It’s a track that’s spiritually apiece with the show Home Is Not a Place at Anat Ebgi, a collection of art that conceives of “home” in diffuse and loaded ways: as comforting as it is challenging, as tangible as it is quicksilver. Taking its title from a line from Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, the show rejects the notion that “home” is reducible to a fixed place or static dream, conceiving of it instead as an animating force that sets people adrift in the pursuit of intimacy and belonging.
It’s a small but vast show that triumphs in scope by mining ambiguity rather than arguing the claim implicit in its title. As a result, the show affords its artists a great degree of freedom to explore the nuances of “home” across styles, practices, and sensibilities, with the sum of their efforts amounting to a tapestry that threads love and dread into a cohesive whole.
The legendary Faith Ringgold opens the show with paintings from her series Coming to Jones Road, which tracks the narrative of slaves over the course of 200 years. Her beautiful, splotchy paintings of leafy forests and dusty paths are fully rendered, but essentially blank; they are scenes that are vacant of people or context save their visceral, ultra-saturated palette of greens, blues, and (especially intense) reds. If these works are haunted by the specter of an untold past, “United States of Attica” brings history to the fore with a bolt of righteous anger. Using a map of America (in the colors of Marcus Garvey’s pan-African flag) labelled with the sites of riots, massacres, terrorism, and genocide against Black and Brown people, Ringgold probes the limits of a country too wedded to its own myths to broaden its sense of home and include its rightful heirs.
Cosmo Whyte’s piece, “Tethered” (2019) buckles down on the ambient dread that Ringgold hints at in her paintings. Cut out along the edges into forms evocative of Kara Walker’s silhouettes, Whyte’s drawing depicts a flailing man in a thrum of faceless people. He is either breaking free from his circumstances or succumbing to them, either materializing into a person or fading into the ether.
Jordan Nassar’s gorgeous hand-embroidered canvases marry the technical skill of a master craftsmen with the poetic eye for color and geometry of Etel Adnan. His work conjures sun-kissed and moonlit landscapes framed by Palestinian design motifs — culture as a constant window to look out upon and consider the world.
The freedom of Salman Toor’s paintings stems from the rush of finding home in the kindness and shared sensibility of other people. His portraits of young, queer men unfazed and unfettered by the world in the glow of each other’s physical (“Three Boys” ) and digital company (“The Texter” ) are breathtaking. But for the joy of his unbothered subjects, Toor is also adept at probing the subtle, emotional currents that churn beneath a home’s cozy aura. The gorgeously open-hearted “The Arrival” (2019) reveals the impetus for seeking home in other people is often dispossession from one’s own kin. Toor’s graceful hero embraces him any way.
“Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden,” the haunted protagonist of Giovanni’s Room muses to himself, “the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember [the garden] and madmen who forget. Heroes [who do both] are rare.” In navigating the pleasures and impossibilities of reaching out for Eden, Home Is Not a Place puts us firmly in the realm of heroes.
Home Is Not a Place continues at Anat Ebgi (2660 S La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA) through July 13.