April Bey, “Made In Space” at Band of Vices
Through June 30
By Sydney Walters
In Band of Vices Art Gallery’s inaugural show, artist April Bey exhibits work that launches conversations about materialism, craftsmanship, and gender expectation into a prophetic galaxy.
Hanging on one side of the gallery are several fabric pieces on wood panels. The faces of Nina Simone, Michaela Coel (star of the show Chewing Gum), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of Americanah and feminist voice over in Beyoncé’s song Flawless) and other black female figures are presented in meme fashion with heavy block text accompanying each portrait. The silhouette of Nina Simone weaves in and out of the word “DEBT.” In Phuck Your Protocol (Chewing Gum), Coel looks resolutely at the audience with the text: “WILL NOT BE ASSIMILATED.” Portions of text are hand sewn into the wood panel with traditional African prints reproduced on Chinese Hitarget wax fabric. This pattern knock-off notes that convenience often trumps authenticity and the economic damage of mass production in colonized parts of West Africa and the Caribbean. Coupled with the striking images of black celebrities, these pieces embody the progressive ideology and cultural aesthetic of AfroFuturist memes.
On choosing text for her work, Bey says: “I see all the works with text to be inspirational memes in a future world –think inspirational posters you grew up with in elementary school or that which you see in train stations or in doctor’s offices. They all correspond with Star Trek quotes or hip-hop lyrics. I like the idea of people reciting and identifying with text that speaks to them first rather than focusing on who the originator of the lines are…The text paired with imagery are strategic and usually match the path to fame and success each figure has taken to get to the raised status they are now or were if they are deceased. The final word always comes from the viewer, which is why being heavily ingrained into Star Trek is not needed to understand my work. Star Trekian philosophies are relatable at the fundamental level containing our values and identity.”
On the other side of the room are posters with a keen sense of material and pop-culture. In She Bows Her Head But Only As A Means To Impale Her Enemies, renders a black and white portrait of a woman, her eyes cut out and replaced with silver glitter. This image, as well as With My Ears to the Streets and My Eyes to the Sky, I’m on Another Planet My Nagus and You Just Fly, Chinese (Ghana) wax fabric sewn in strips radiating around the woman’s heads. A long jewelry chain is pinned to the top corners of the posters and hangs like a necklace across their throats. These necklaces are strung with authentic African beads from the Asante region. Bumper-Queer (Queen Fluid) and I See What You Do (The Emissary) push this series into orbit and feature glamorous astronauts smoking in space. For Bey, outer space is a freedom arena. It is a place for all of her ideas and keen perceptions about race, gender, and the material world assimilate into an attainable plan for inclusivity. She says: “My utopian view would be a world in which everyone has something based in their passion they can devote the energy to obtain the levels of craftsmanship needed to exhibit competency. Universality in this conviction lends to a working and living force with varying passions all with equal energy aimed at showing others you care, love and respect both yourself and the rest of the planet.”
Ultimately, Made In Space is April Bey’s discerning look into many of the shortcomings of capitalism and constraining categories. Yet she absorbs these obstacles within the textiles of her work and produces an eloquent call to action to become more mindful and responsible.
Band of Vices
Weds – Sat, 12pm – 5pm