A Lesson in Class, Gender and Race from Genevieve Gaignard
Smell the Roses at the California African American Art Museum
By Sydney Walters
Through February 19th
The California African American Art Museum presents Genevieve Gaignard’s first solo museum show: Smell the Roses. An MFA graduate of Yale University, Gaignard highlights the importance of individual narrative through photography, mixed media and installation.
The daughter of a black father and white mother, Gaignard was raised in a working class town in Massachusetts. Her experience as being mixed race led to social complications and feeling of seclusion and a lack of identity. In her photography, Gaignard uses this predicament as a performance platform to expose instances in which stereotypes replaced truth.
With staged photography, every detail matters. In the photograph Smell The Roses, Gaignard dresses in a matching skirt and top complete with a large brimmed hat. Bible in hand, Gaignard has stepped off the sidewalk and looks down at a rosebush. Something about the roses has caught her attention, though she seems unwilling to bend in order to smell them. In another photograph, Gaignard poses for In the Red in a short pencil shirt, leopard print top with a beehive hairstyle. Behind her, a red neon sign reading “Totally Hair,” lights her from behind. In yet another photograph, swimsuit tan lines climb up her shoulders as Gaignard leans over provocatively in a low cut top, skinny jeans and afro wig in Basic Cable & Chill.
Throughout these transformations, Gaignard is still recognizable, though convincingly living different lives. By repeatedly documenting herself, Gaignard asserts that though she exists somewhere between notions of black and white, she is not invisible. And besides photography, Gaignard expands her flair for theatricality into installation art. Open entryways allow visitors to violate the fourth wall and enter her meticulous mise-en-scène.
In one room, presumably belonging to a young black girl, no detail has been overlooked. Objects around the pink bedroom and bathroom celebrate blackness and suggest a pursuit of beauty. A collection of back baby dolls line the entire length of the pink daybed. A vintage exercise bike in the corner faces a poster on the wall of a naked women with text below her stating, “Black is Beautiful.” In the bathroom, cans of Aquanet and bottles of various skin and hair products line the bathroom storage units.
The other room doubles as the kitchen and living room. Mustard colored carpeting abruptly ends where kitchen floor vinyl begins. Spice racks and cooking pots hang on the kitchen wall while a shelving unit containing family memorabilia and photographs are on the living room side.
A copy of Ebony magazine with a leather-clad Michael Jackson on the cover sits on a side table.
Smell The Roses is a delightful departure from photography or art hung on white gallery walls. Gaignard’s complete occupation of the space gives people permission to enter the narrative of another and leave considering the foreign as perhaps a little more familiar.
Exhibition is up until February 19