Chelle Barbour’s You Is Pretty!
Band of Vices
Through October 13th
By Genie Davis
Closing October 13th at Band of Vices, You is Pretty! marks the first solo exhibition by mixed media artist Chelle Barbour.
The exhibition received plenty of buzz from the guest curation of the show by Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett, but it’s the artwork itself that’s the real standout.
The exhibition features 24 photographic collages of black women, primarily on paper, the images taken from books and magazines. Using these elements as puzzle pieces of sorts, Barbour creates from them images that become mythical, transcendent beings. These beings serve as a corrective to the under-valued images of black women that are so often shaped and shown in pop culture.
Here she creates images that are often powerful, some fanciful, some symbolic, always complex.
In “Becoming,” a woman’s head rests atop the vivid, yet-folded yellow wings of a butterfly as if just waiting to take flight. Another butterfly image is revealed in “Free Your Mind,” in which a flock of winged beauties flutters from the top of a woman’s head. Her orange jacket is split, as if it, too, will become wings.
“Don’t Get It Twisted,” gives us a fighter: a woman fused with a crocodile and turtle shell as armor, carrying a wicked-looking gun. The nails of that croc are painted a cheerful red; the turtle shell carapace is placed on the woman’s head as jaunty as a beret. “Look But Don’t Touch” gives us another fierce image: a woman in a medieval-style helmet with three blood-red fingernails suspended above her head, echoing flames over a religious icon. “Off With Their Heads” gives viewers another armor-clad image, this collage on wood rather than paper features a figure who is holding an intensely sharp, curved dagger. The curve itself is both voluptuous and deadly.
Half-face, half-flower – the woman is abloom with silk and Japanese fans as her body in “Morphed Beauty.” Offering a different take on flowers, “Over You” gives us a woman whose head is topped with a flower, as if her face was the bloom; her body is a mass of floral images, and from her hands fall discarded flowers – goodbye to this love, to this restricted life; she will grow and unfold again on her own, thank you. A combination of armor and floral imagery makes a strong impression in “Queen Mother,” a striking piece that seems to assert the need to both blossom and fight; be beautiful but be strong. This rose has thorns of necessity.
In her artist’s statement Barbour notes that she is shaping questions about “agency and beauty” and evoking images that are shot through with Afro-surrealism. She notes that “…the design elements may seem illogical and incongruent as they reimagine and celebrate hybrids of black female identity as mighty warriors, protagonists, sages, and interlocutors… These fictional beings are compelling, yet feminine and non-binary as well as vulnerable and resistant to trauma.”
She uses flowers, butterflies, household items, and animal parts in a truly transformative way, sometimes as magical headdress, other times as armor. She fuses the softness of magical realism with images of mythic warriors, queens, black Joan of Arcs, lovers, hybrid beings: all are mysterious, potent, majestic. She gives us images that are somehow instantly iconic: they draw, allure, compel, and proclaim. They’re alchemic and empowered, bold and powerful. And perhaps above all else, in a world in which too often black women have been subjugated to appearing in images that render them less than beautiful, they embody the title of the exhibition, proclaiming “You Is Pretty!”
Band of Vices Art Gallery
5376 W. Adams Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016
Wednesday – Saturday, 12pm – 5pm, during Exhibitions.
Or By Appointment.