Witch Hunt at Hammer & ICA LA

Yael Bartana, Patriarchy is History, 2019 (Hammer)

Witch Hunt

Hammer & ICA LA, los angeles
through january 9, 2022

Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
Witch Hunt is a sprawling exhibition presenting ambitious projects from the current feminist wave by 16 women working in 13 countries. Long on queer and post-colonial social theory and topical research into the cultural and economic manifestations of misogyny, the works are also rich with material impact and innovation, emotionally rich narrative, and an elusive but prevalent quasi-mystical energy that speaks to the wisdom available outside a prim, capitalist, patriarchical worldview.

Both institutions lay out their projects in a sort of quest format — you enter and move through them more or less one at a time; certain sightlines and transitions are elegant, but each work is given its own space to inhabit and breathe in. This processional sequence amplifies the underlying hum of journeying into the unknown, encountering magic spells and spirit-filled caves and enclaves, turning corners and stumbling upon secret rituals, hearing a sound beckoning from another room and moving slowly towards it. Along the way, arresting paintings, towering, jaunty, sexy and confrontational mixed media textile sculptures, aromatic meditations on the colonialist industry of what amounts to conflict chocolate, stately pleas for the human rights of sex workers, live and video-based performance art, indelible documentary photography, a lustily curious cyborg intelligence avatar, and more moments offering disruptive meditations on how things are going for women in the world right now.

“Through methodologies involving deep and radical empathy, and an intimacy born of rage,” writes exhibition co-curator Connie Butler in her essay for catalog, “Days of Rage,” the artists in Witch Hunt align themselves with political and social ruptures not only historical but also enduring and endured.” As colorful and ancestral, tragic and transgressive, radical and resistant as the works can be, and with as many questions that ultimately go unanswered despite the intimacy of communication, all the works have one thing in common — and it’s the thing that makes its panoply of life experience and visual strategies both coherent and universal. It’s all located in the body. The female body is over and over addressed as a site of empathy, knowledge, trauma, pleasure, labor, politics, magic, collaboration, anger and activism.

Witch Hunt is part of the Feminist Art Coalition, a group of dozens of national arts organizations programmed projects on the current feminist discourse. “It is clear that misogyny rears its ugly head when women — including, importantly women and anyone who presents as feminine — step outside the boundaries of their socially prescribed roles,” writes exhibition co-curator Anne Ellegood in her catalog essay, “Visibility and Vulnerability.” Women are seen as threats especially when they reject imitations based on gender.” Ellegood goes on to make explicit the circumstances in the U.S. and around the world which lit so many of the fires smoldering in this show.

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Hammer and the ICA LA, and works are on view at both sites. But unlike the Hammer’s previous pas de deux — Made in L.A.: a version done in tandem with the Huntington — not everyone shows in both places. There are five projects at ICA and eleven at the Hammer, and each venue claims its own gems: Lara Schnitger’s fabric giants, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz’ cinematic performance-based video activation, Every Ocean Hughes’ haunting and balletic folk meditation on the cycles of life, Shu Lea Cheang’s foray into the unknown future of intelligence and flesh, Okwui Okpokwasili’s evocation of a secret pocket of earth magic in practice, Candice Breitz’s video testimonials that will forever change the way you see sex work, Minerva Cuevas’ conceptual and kinetic works that will forever change the way you see chocolate. Ultimately, the experience of Witch Hunt is both unsettling and inspiring as it points to a plague of violence as well as demonstrating the limitless potential of solidarity and resistance.



Hammer artists: Leonor Antunes (Portuguese, b. 1972), Yael Bartana (Israeli, b. 1970), Pauline Boudry (Swiss, b. 1972) & Renate Lorenz (German, b. 1972), Shu Lea Cheang (American, b. 1954), Bouchra Khalili (Moroccan, b. 1975), Laura Lima (Brazilian, b. 1971), Teresa Margolles (Mexican, b. 1963), Otobong Nkanga (Nigerian, b. 1974), Okwui Okpokwasili (Nigerian American, b. 1972), Beverly Semmes (American, b. 1958). ICA artists: Candice Breitz (South African, b. 1972), Minerva Cuevas (Mexican, b. 1975) , Vaginal Davis (American, b. 1969), Every Ocean Hughes (formerly Emily Roysdon) (American, b. 1977), Lara Schnitger (Dutch, b. 1969).

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