Melissa Joseph’s first solo show in New York finds her reckoning with nostalgia and anticipating an era of empowerment for artists of the Asian diaspora. Employing an Impressionist felting process, she adapts photos from family archives onto found materials like raw Indian silk, amate bark paper, carpeting, and pieces of sidewalk. 

Melissa Joseph, “Dad after Mantegna” (2021), crayola watercolor, acrylic, fabric, ink, screen printed reeves BFK, oil pastel and packing tape on paper, 52 x 42 inches

Née occupies two spacious rooms of Danny Báez’s REGULAR•NORMAL in Chinatown. More than 30 mixed media pieces appear across gallery walls, sprouting from the floor, and wrapped around columns. Temples, sitars, and palm trees recall family memories from India, while embroidered mirrors and pieces of glitter allow more photorealist works to sparkle. Joseph interweaves colorful felted wool to bring out vibrant tones of clothing and home decor, repurposing wrapping paper from a gift to create couch patterns in “Jeanne Caldwell Designs” (2021).

Memories of the artist’s father, who recently passed away, occupy much of the exhibition. She portrays him lying on a hospital bed in “Dad after Mantegna” (2021) — adapted from a photograph resembling the “Lamentation of Christ” (1480) by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna. The large-scale collage appears in its own room, cordoned off with a turquoise curtain. 

Joseph claims that for all the necessity of identity-based art, she feels compelled to focus on the collective grief of the last year. For all of us who lost loved ones to COVID-19, her work resonates with playfulness and gravity, evoking fond memories while channeling sorrow into tribute. Née therefore ushers in a turning point in the artist’s life, with a tinge of trauma and a lot of lightness.

Melissa Joseph, “Kochi funeral” (2020), needle felted wool and sari silk on raw indian silk, 12 x 24 x 1 inches
Melissa Joseph, “Jeanne Caldwell Designs” (2021), crayola watercolors, stickers, fabric, spraypaint, glitter giftwrap, tracing paper, screenprinted Reeves BFK, ink and glitter foam, and mylar on paper, 47 x 68 inches
Melissa Joseph “Elizabeth Aunty, Thiruvananthapurum” (2020), needle felted wool and sari silk on wet felted wool and cotton, 15 x 22 x 1 inches

Melissa Joseph: NÉE continues through May 2 at Regular Normal (41 Elizabeth Street, Suite 701, Chinatown, Manhattan).

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.