April Bey: Fierce Beauty and Feminism
By Genie Davis
Through April 2nd
At Coagula Curatorial through April 2nd, April Bey’s “Comply” is a tribute to women. The fierce beauty and feminism in her work reveals the female as a goddess, a queen, a bold and unrelenting force that is both spiritual and physical. Bey captures passion and strength, power and sensuality in her work, which explores the resilience of women and the hypocrisy of societal expectations where women are concerned. Focusing on black women, the exhibition presents portraits of real women Bey herself interviewed during a residency in Ghana, West Africa.
Working with fabric, the material is literally and figuratively interwoven into the subject and context of “Comply.” The fabric was purchased from the women Bey spoke to in Ghana, but was Chinese in origin, as are the needles, thread, fabric, and even the needle-threaders used to create the work. Marketed to black women, the materials are of low quality, and belie the pride and passion exhibited in the subjects. Along with the Ghanaian women, the show includes portraits of Beyonce and figure of The Venus of Willendorf
Bey originally wanted to go to Ghana to research textiles, wax, fabric, and the role that black women played in transporting Chinese fabric throughout Ghana, where women are essentially in charge and have a chief to do their bidding. As she learned about the color palette used in the fabrics she also learned how women smuggle the fabric, the only affordable material available in Ghana, sell it, and use the money earned for their families. In this exhibition, Bey has used the fabric itself to compose the paintings.
The text in each work is presented in a fashion that evokes embroidery-like elements, and the simple fact that Bey is working in and with fabric creates its own female ethos. With the inclusion of text, paint, and fabric together, the images are in a sense quilted, a uniquely female art in and of itself.
With the titular “Comply,” the words “I will not comply” are presented in different mediums, with “I will not” in thick paint, and “comply” achieving the embroidery-like visualization. The blue and yellow colors on the face of the woman behind the words conveys triumph, tears, strength, a kind of impressionistic, ritualistic make-up. “Rules of Acquisition” follows a similar visual creation, with the word “Rules” embracing the look of layered embroidery and the woman’s image staring right through, or perhaps staring down the word. Whether she is defying her own acquisition or developing her own rules to acquire the power which society has denied her is ambiguous.
The “Hitarget Venus (Red)” is a golden idol, a profile view of the Paleolithic fertility image combining Chinese fabric sewn into resin on panel with acrylic paint. Like banners or bonds, dotted ribbons stripe through the piece, their position both binding/trapping and wrapping/paying homage to the Venus image. In “Hitarget Venus (Green),” the Venus figure faces front, awash in an orange color that makes her redolent of flame, while the cloth around her is a cool almost- aquamarine. The bands crossing her image here have a floral pattern that seems to both undercut and yet dress up her strength and enhance her feminity.
To the viewer, Bey’s duality is fascinating. We are looking at a powerful female figure that is associated with childbearing and a weightiness of purpose and physicality. At the same time we are seeing this extremely potent figure bound, limited – or enhanced. We are seeing a female image put on a pedestal. We are seeing power subverted. We are seeing, through Bey’s use of her materials themselves, the ways in which women can and do control their environment and yet are limited by it.
Raised in the Bahamas and Los Angeles-based, Bey is an exciting artist both visually and politically, her work taking on American and Bahamian popular culture, immigration, contemporary pop culture, feminism, and race as well as self-identity and racial ambiguity.
There will be an artist walk through of “Comply” on April 2nd from 1:30-3:30.