Artist: Fred Wilson
Venue: Maccarone, Los Angeles
Exhibition Title: Afro Kismet
Date: March 16 – May 25, 2019
Full gallery of images, press release, and link available after the jump.
Images courtesy of Maccarone, Los Angeles
The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.
— James Baldwin.
Fred Wilson’s Afro Kismet lays bare questions of visibility: where are Africans in historical accounts of early Europe? How have the narratives institutionalized by museums erased the presence of black individuals of the past and present.
Over seven trips to Istanbul, Fred Wilson researched these questions, continuing the project he started in Re: Claiming Egypt and Speak of Me as I Am, his shows at the 1992 Cairo Biennale and 2003 Venice Biennale. In those works, Wilson revealed the black diasporas of each region — histories made obsolete in the Western collective imagination. He continues to interrogate the peripheral treatment of such histories in Afro Kismet, this time mining the history of Istanbul.
Wilson remarks how Baldwin, like himself, was his “creative self” in Istanbul. From 1961 to 1971, Baldwin lived in and around Istanbul, directing theatre and completing his novel, Another Country, which Wilson quotes in Afro Kismet. Though the work Baldwin produced in Istanbul does not directly point to African histories in Turkey, it rings of the same sentiments that Wilson describes as “aloneness or loneliness” (Fred Wilson, 2018). These are the sentiments that the artist centers when he isolates black figures in etchings thrifted from Istanbul’s antique stores.
Afro Kismet centers representations of Afro Turks and celebrates them as part of a broader diasporic community. The most striking example is the show’s two enormous Iznik tile walls printed with “Mother Africa” and “Black Is Beautiful” in Arabic lettering. These walls draw connections between the concealed Ottoman histories of enslaved Africans, their descendants in Turkey today, and the cultural movements of black Americans in the 1970s. Wilson reminds us that today’s Afro Turk presence in Istanbul bears a legacy of slavery. The connection to America’s history of slavery (and the institutional racism it has left behind) is apparent in Trade Winds, a black globe that visualizes the worldwide trade of humans.
Maccarone’s additional work by Wilson invites viewers to reflect further. His black Murano glass mirrors and signature blown glass drips offer reflective surfaces, but their darkness denies the viewer a fully legible facsimile. In this way, the works question notions of objective representation and truth-presenting — the questions Wilson has been raising since his watershed 1992 installation Mining the Museum. The artist’s flags of African countries contribute to this deconstructive project: he drains color from them, leaving viewers to ponder the reductive process of signifying an arbitrarily drawn territory through stripes and shapes.
The show’s glass works gesture back to Wilson’s research for Speak of Me as I Am, which revealed the inherent connection between the African histories in Venice and Turkey. For the Venice Biennale, Wilson used Othello as a vehicle to convey the histories he sought to illuminate, naming his Murano chandeliers and mirrors after the play’s lines and scenes. The works embody “things that are as complex as Othello himself. Most are a meditation on death, on blackness, on beauty” (Fred Wilson, 2018). They encapsulate the aloneness or loneliness that reappear in Afro Kismet.
Fred Wilson (b. 1954, Bronx, New York) had his first groundbreaking and historically significant exhibition, Mining the Museum (1992), at the Maryland Historical Society. Since then, he has had solo exhibitions including his retrospective Objects and Installations 1979-2000, which was organized by the Center for Art and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and traveled to Saratoga Springs, Chicago, Berkeley, Houston, Andover, and Santa Monica, before closing at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Other solo presentations include So Much Trouble in the World—Believe It or Not! at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (2005); Works 2001–2011 at the Cleveland Museum of Art (2012); Local Color at The Studio Museum in Harlem (2013); and Black to the Powers of Ten and Wildfire Test Pit at Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio (2016).
In 2003, Wilson represented the United States at the 50th Venice Biennale with the solo exhibition Speak of Me as I Am.
His many accolades include the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius” Grant (1999). Wilson is a trustee of the American Academy in Rome and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
His work is included in many museum collections including Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College; Baltimore Museum of Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; Denver Art Museum; Des Moines Art Center; Detroit Institute of Arts; High Museum of Art; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Seattle Art Museum; Smithsonian American Art Museum; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Tate, London; Long Museum, Shanghai; Fogg Museum, Harvard University; Pérez Art Museum Miami; New Orleans Museum of Art; and Whitney Museum of American Art.
Link: Fred Wilson at Maccarone