Where We Do and Don’t Belong
Quotidian, Los Angeles
through March 28
Written by Anne Wallentine
This PLACE, like every place, is a palimpsest. The show encapsulates the layers of history that have been written and re-written; are partially erased but still palpable. Each work in it excavates those untold or erased stories to challenge the historically dominant narratives of place.
Even the gallery itself is part of this palimpsestic story: paint-splattered linoleum floor is peeled back from patches of mosaic tiling, bites in the painted and plastered walls reveal the brick beneath, and crown molding frames the punched-through ceiling, exposing the pipes and wires of the superstructure. (The building was first a financial institution, then a series of studios and galleries, each of which left their trace.) “I embraced the fact that it really was this richly historical and layered space,” says Jill Monitz, curator and founder of Quotidian.
Monitz does the same in the show, placing each artist in conversation with each other as well as with the fraught and heavy concept of ‘place.’ Because place is ultimately about belonging – and in order for people to belong, others are made to feel they do not.
Dale Davis’s pottery forms the centerpiece of the exhibition, reminding us of the continual struggle to create a space of belonging. Though made in 1967-8, the pieces have not been shown until now, as Davis deferred his own work in order to start a gallery that successfully launched the careers of numerous artists. A squeezed pot viscerally captures how we grapple with the structures we inherit as part of the legacy of both past and place.
Carla Viparelli’s powerful paintings question belonging by interspersing parts of black bodies with shattered pieces of ancient Greek pottery. Her works reveal how European culture appropriates and valorizes African art objects – holding forms derived from North Africa in high esteem – while devaluing and rejecting African lives, including by disregarding the present refugee crisis.
Two blue and white quilts emphasize the same theme in a different medium. In these works, Fran Siegel re-places patterns appropriated by European Renaissance porcelain back in their original contexts: the textiles of Indian, Persian, and Middle Eastern art. One quilt is hung to trail on the floor, grounding the visitor in the reality of the present place while reminding them of the inherent biases of how we treat and valorize art based on its origin.
As the show’s works illustrate, history haunts the present. Dwora Fried’s shadowboxes deal with the immediate legacy of the Holocaust: her mother survived Auschwitz, but never spoke of the experience. The heaviness of that silence is conveyed in unnerving plastic doll vignettes. These works are juxtaposed with Srijon Chowdhury’s paintings of hazy, purple-pink archways, which evoke the architecture of a mosque built by the artist’s great-grandfather to explore the liminality of his cultural identity. Despite the difference in their religious traditions, each artist has created a place that conveys the ambiguity of how we form our individual identities in confrontation with the past.
On a collective level, Umar Rashid’s “Paradis: Play this at my funeral and my rebirth” does much the same. He integrates voodoo and Mayan imagery to confront the oppression of the French empire with the black and brown bodies who built it. June Edmonds’ monumental, black-painted flags similarly convey how U.S. history was built on the backs of black Americans. The backs of the flags are darker than the front, emphasizing that this is still the ‘underside’ of U.S. history – though it should be recognized as the true and full narrative.
While the narratives of This PLACE are distinct, its themes are universal. Humans come and go, but place remains, altered with each additional layer of meaning. History haunts, changes, repeats – in this and every place. The only question is: what else can we do to rewrite the story?