A Parallel World: April Bey’s “Atlantica, the Gilda Region”
California African American Museum, Los ANgeles
THrough January 17, 2022
Written by Yemisi Oyeniyi
Ever since I first encountered April Bey’s work in 2017 at the LA Arts Fair, I was smitten. ’Americanah (Ferengi Feminism) and Pfuck Your Protocol (Chewing Gum) captivated me with their bold and unapologetic gazes and commanded my attention. Her palette is vibrant. She combines her materials and laborious process as an invitation and a call to disrupt and make space for those who are marginalized. She blends and collages from oil paint, wax fabric textiles sourced from West African vendors with her graphic design and sewing prowess. I, as a black woman have felt empowered by the strong black feminist presence her work holds. I have visited many exhibits showing April Bey’s work and was very excited to visit her solo show, “Atlantica, the Gilda Region”, now showing at the California African American Museum through January 17, 2022.
Upon entering the portal to Atlantica, I was transported through a lush and sonically engaging installation of plants and videos synchronized to Guinean music and undulating magenta lights. This tropical gateway landed me in the arrival terminal of the Gilda Region where murals and floor length tapestries with images of palm trees set in urban structures, serene and vast desert landscapes and prominent Atlanticans greeted me with a sample of the many offerings of the area. This realm is vivid with colorful and textured depictions of food locales, nail salons, land and underwater tours, featuring influencers, artists and friends of April Bey’s as models. Inspired by fiction writer, Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, a novel about the adventures of Gilda, an immortal black lesbian vampire who escapes slavery with time travel, April Bey situates visitors with her friends as Atlanticans in a parallel world without racism and oppressive social hierarchies. Atlanticans are sent to Earth on a mission to observe, report and collect objects and histories of colonialism and recycle them and create beauty. Throughout the exhibit, the paintings and woven textiles re-appropriate colonial brands, aesthetics and capitalist labor exploits to empower, center care and relaxation, as seen with images of Royal Crown hair products used as literal crowns and The Dune Room Salon and Travel Agency, a locale which offers complete spa service and a customized vacation itinerary.
Atlantica is a place which invites us to a world where black and queer life thrives with joy, love and care. Born out of April Bey’s childhood experiences growing up in the Bahamas, specifically stories her father told her to explain the racist attitudes towards and treatment of black people, “Atlantica, the Gilda Region”, is both an alternative to white supremacist societies and affirmation of black fluid identities.
I am hungry for art and spaces which stimulate, awaken and feed me with images and create experiences where I recognize myself within a world I’d like to exist. In a world which is both violent towards and invalidates black people, Atlantica gave me a feeling of belonging.