The current group exhibition at Hales Gallery explores questions of cultural identity: a topic which feels particularly pertinent when considering that the show opened the day following Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 and the start of the UK’s exit process from the EU. The three artists included – Ebony G Patterson, Thomas J Price and Zadie Xa – meditate on the notion of cultural identity, posing questions that centre around how we form our perceptions of identity in the modern world. Working with a diverse range of visual and material forms they interrogate the various stereotypes which inform the construction and performance of cultural identity, and in doing so challenge our conventional assumptions of collective belonging.

Upon entering the bustling gallery space on the day following the firing of Brexit’s starting gun, my attention was immediately drawn to the work of Vancouver born Korean artist Zadie Xa. Her practice spans a diverse range of mediums encompassing performance, video, painting and textiles. Through these varying forms of expression, Xa examines notions of self and her own experience within the Asian diaspora. Zadie Xa appropriates visual stereotypes found in popular culture, considering how they mediate dominant Eurocentric representations and perceptions. Examples of these racial stereotypes decorate a large-scale fan, titled Asian Gucci (2016), which dominates the far wall of the gallery. Hand sewn fabric symbols of yin-yangs, knives, and “monolid” eyes adorn the piece; Xa utilises these exaggerated motifs to both combat and engage with Eurocentric perceptions of Asian identity and Otherness.

Through her work Xa creates an alternative Asian identity inhabiting a lurid supernatural realm; this fantastical world is the setting for her video work Moodrings, Crystals and Opal Coloured Stones (2016). The narrative of this piece finds its basis in Xa’s journey retracing the initiation rituals of female shamans, known as Mudang, a traditional Korean practice. The brightly coloured psychedelic imagery within the film could recall an experience with hallucinogenic drugs, but additionally these colours reflect the vivid hues of the robes worn by the Mudang. Playing on their traditional costume, Xa is pictured wrapped in a pink cloak, swirling amongst the trees of a deserted woodland. This magic garment is also displayed within the exhibition as a work entitled SVN Stacks/Moon Marauder (2015), a piece which straddles the border between costume and painting. The textile work is adorned with pastel pink synthetic hair and a repetition of the initial “G” referring to Ganggangsullae, an ancient Korean women’s folk dance. Performance footage of the Ganggangsullae is also incorporated into Moodrings, Crystals and Opal Coloured Stones, creating further points of connection between Xa’s three works presented in the exhibition.

 

 

 

Displayed on the wall opposing Zadie Xa’s magical cloak is Ebony G Patterson’s Entourage (2010), the first piece from Patterson’s Fambily series of photographic installations (2010–13). Investigating the performance of gender, Patterson’s work explores constructions of the masculine within “popular black”[1] culture. Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica her childhood coincided with the rise of Dancehall music in the 1980s and 90s. Patterson adopts Jamaican Dancehall culture as a platform for her gender discourse, appropriating its visual aesthetic. Entourage (2010) pictures a group of models, their confrontational stares holding a relentless gaze with the viewer. The work is at the same time comic and sinister, showing exaggerated versions of young men from Jamaica’s Dancehall scene. While their body language implies an assertive aggression, their flamboyant clothing seems to juxtapose this hostility. The large-scale studio photograph is printed on a nylon banner, installed on a backdrop of floral papered walls. Patterson attempts to explore the urban “bling culture”;[2] with its contradictory expression of masculinity through the use of feminine gendered adornment and tight, colourful clothing. The artificially whitened faces of the models contrast unnaturally with the dark skin of their necks and limbs: a nod to the increasingly fashionable practice of skin bleaching amongst both men and women. Ebony J Patterson’s work mediates on the construction of identity within disenfranchised post-colonial communities, whilst refusing to shy away from the complicated aspects of these different identities.

Thomas J Price is the only artist to include sculpture as part of the exhibition with his most recent series Untitled (Icon). Exploring the politics of identity, Price is interested in the details of body language and facial expression which in turn suggest a state of mind, describing his sculptures as “psychological propositions”.[3] His figurative sculptures depict imaginary back male subjects whose features are derived from an amalgamation of sources: individuals represented in the media, observed strangers, and classical and neo-classical sculpture. The aluminum composite cast  heads in Untitled (Icon) are gilded in 24 carat gold leaf, sitting atop a line of marble plinths. Price engages with and manipulates the traditions of Western sculpture; his “work challenges the values and authenticity of the traditional monumental sculpture, replacing the subject with a type of person seldom presented as ’monumental’”.[4] His use of gold has powerful cultural connotations. Gilding dates back to ancient Egyptian practices, and continues to signify luxury and prestige to this day.

 

 

Through their work, Zadie Xa, Ebony G Patterson, and Thomas J Price and invite the viewers of this exhibition to become aware of the subconscious processes through which we interpret and respond to others. This is an exhibition that makes you think. It brings up questions not only about identity, but also about the role of art in the creation and interpretation of cultural practices, and our interactions with others in the world as a result.

 

Ebony G Patterson, Thomas J Price and Zadie Xa’s work will be on display at the Hales Gallery until the 6th of May. More information can be found here.

 

[1] Ebony G Patterson, Artist Statement. http://ebonygpatterson.com/resources/artist%20statement.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Josh Jones, “Thomas J Price’s Sculptural Investigations”, Interview Magazine 4th July 2016. http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/thomas-j-price-worship#_

[4] “Sculpting Identity: Thomas J. Price”, Drakes 17th March 2016. https://www.drakes.com/editorial/sculpting-identity-thomas-j-price