From a whisper to a scream
New York, 201 Chrystie Street
Lehmann Maupin’s Lower East Side location opened its doors to From a whisper to a scream, a three-person exhibition featuring works by Teresita Fernández, Shirazeh Houshiary, and Jeffrey Gibson. Adapting its title from a work by Gibson, From whisper to a scream proposes various modes to look at the current socio-political landscape through geometric abstraction, color, and form. Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan spoke with the exhibition curator Anna Stothart about her decision to bring these three artists together.
Osman Can Yerebakan: Political art or art that has strong socio-political commentary commonly uses overtness to convey its message. In this exhibition, however, you underline the impact of minimalism for expression of identity politics.
Anna Stothart: There are various ways to articulate an idea or a theme. Through the course of history, especially since Modernism artists have been experimenting with pushing the boundaries of this idea. I have been noticing artists whose works could be defined as political while some are more subtle than others. They have been using the language of minimalism because they, Teresita Fernández, for example, don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A political statement or a work that is politically or historically motivated can also be beautiful; it can be about materiality or about landscape. That’s what Shirazeh or Jeffrey Gibson are doing as well. By bringing these artists together in a modest scale, I exemplify few ways in which artists are achieving that. Jeffrey is within the language of geometric abstraction, but he is also invested in materiality, using materials like rawhide or even jingles that would be used on a costume for ceremonies in Native North American tribes. By placing those in conversation with minimal geometric language, he breaks boundaries. The works engage in a conversation about identity and place, but also complicate our assumptions about what those are. The works that I also have been drawn to are those that make me stop and say, “that is beautiful!” Later you start to realize either from the title, the wall label or just by standing in front of it, what it’s made out of and what it’s supposed to represent. They are more important today, I believe. I enjoy overt and in-your-face work, too, but in this case, the work speaks to both notions. You can enjoy the form, color, and material, but also respond to the work’s engagement with significant issues. I spent time thinking how these works from three different artists—one from Iran but living in London, one whose family is from Cuba but grew up in Miami and spent most of her adult life in New York, and another one who is Choctaw-Cherokee but traveled all around the world—can tell us about the world today.
OCY: Jeffrey Gibson’s From a Whisper to a Scream piece was a catalyst for the exhibition. The comparison between whisper and scream is definitely a great metaphor to define its premise. As a curator, how is your relationship with works that contain strong manifestations within serene and reticent façades?
AS: That specific work is not in the exhibition, but I have known Jeffrey’s work for a long and spent time thinking about his practice. The title of his work is from a song, but also there is a horror film with the same name about a small town where monsters are eating each other. I didn’t see the film, but when I was looking back at its work, I came across that piece and thought that is exactly what I am trying to say. Think about a whisper that becomes a scream! Looking at an object and peeling its layers, we come to an understating depending on our individual interpretation. The louder the work gets, the more it reveals its motivations. The title felt perfect considering Teresita’s last exhibition here with a captivating image of fire and Shirazeh’s intricate images that reveal that they are in negotiation with the complicated border between the East and the West through form and language. Teresita once said, “having a work be political or about identity and at the same time be beautiful do not have to be mutually exclusive; you can achieve both.”
OCY: Each of three artists comes from a different cultural background, but refers to similar experiences of displacement, alienation, and being the other. How did you build a conversation around the works? How was the selection process of these specific works?
AS: I don’t think most of the works were even made to be directly political; these ideas are inherently there. For example, Gibson’s work is not necessarily Native American, but his heritage informs the materials he uses and who he is as a person. The way I thought about these artists is that they all operate within that idea. Teresita’s family history, for example, is always there, but this is not necessarily overt, although her last two series have been more clear about these issues. I would say some of these artist do not even think so much about displacement or identity, but they are parts of them and their experiences. Therefore, these notions infuse themselves into the work. Jeffrey is very interested in materials, for example, but they are political materials. Shirazeh’s use of calligraphy, geometry, and Arabic language are all parts of minimalism, but you can go deeper into the work. These works can be read in multiple ways which make them so powerful.