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Artists tap cultural objects to spotlight new narratives

Brendan Fernandes. "As One IX," 2017. Photograph on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

By RACHEL ADAMS

Published April 7, 2017

“The Language of Objects,” an exhibition showcasing three artists who appropriate cultural objects in their work, will open April 22 in the UB Anderson Gallery.

The opening reception will take place from 6-8 p.m. in the gallery at One Martha Jackson Place off Englewood Avenue near the South Campus. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free. The exhibition will run through July 30.

As part of the exhibition, the artists — Matthew Craven, Brendan Fernandes and Alyssa Pheobus Mumtaz — will give a talk at 1 p.m. April 23 in the gallery.

Referencing the UB Art Galleries’ Cravens Collection — a collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects from around the world dating as far back as 4,500 BC — each of the artists works across geographic borders and in a variety of mediums to create pathways that add to the history of the objects they select.

They work with a collection of objects and enlist them in the gallery space to construct new narratives. Philosopher Theodor Adorno argued that museums and mausoleums were within the same realm and that objects, once inside a museum, are removed from the flow of culture where new connections can be established. The artists in this exhibition dissuade this theory by continuing to spotlight new narratives through the varied connections with cultural objects and diverse artistic processes.  

Craven sources his images from out-of-print textbooks that he collages on the backs of vintage movie posters. The work is analog; he purchases multiples of books in order to utilize the actual printed imagery instead of digital copies. His repetitive use of the object keeps it ever-present in his work. Craven’s sophisticated eye combines repeated imagery, such as Greek vases, Roman busts, African wood carvings and Neolithic tools, and sometimes incorporates them with hand-drawn patterns that exist across cultures and time periods.

With many of the fundamental shapes he uses often unspecific to place, his collages are scattered across millennia, compressing time and allowing for diverse histories to intertwine.

Fernandes explores notions of identity relating to his unique cultural background as a Canadian artist of Kenyan and Indian descent. While often utilizing African objects that refer to notions of provenance and authenticity, his work also addresses the complex histories of these objects.

For this exhibition, he focuses specifically on the African masks from the Cravens Collection and uses them to raise questions about their authenticity. As an artist, he is adopting museum techniques of display — installing the original objects on their mounts with documentary photographs of their backs that refer to how masks are tested for authenticity by investigating the markings and secretions from past wearers.

This exhibition demonstrates Fernandes’ interest in the disembodied object. Included are photographs of ballet dancers from the American Ballet Theatre interacting with the Cravens’ Collection masks in formal ballet poses and then bringing the masks back into play with student dancers from UB’s Department of Theatre & Dance, who perform in CNC-printed replicas in a new commissioned performance titled “The Other Side.”

As part of an off-site project of the exhibition, Eleven Twenty Projects, 1120 Main St., Buffalo, will showcase three neon works from Fernandes’ project “From Hiz Hands.” This work explores the dissemination of Western notions of an exotic Africa through the symbolic economy of “African” masks sold on Canal Street and on the streets outside museums in New York City, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pheobus Mumtaz’s work is influenced by her personal connection and frequent travels to South Asia. Using archaeology and the life of artifacts as a point of departure, her work is graphically focused and steeped in symbolism. The three series of works in the UB exhibition all touch upon the body, but similar to Fernandes’ installation of masks on mounts, each of Pheobus Mumtaz’s works confronts the missing body in space.

In “Loom Drawings,” she abstracts the loom into a flattened object, presenting it in various states of weaving and unraveling. The luminous prayer beads in “Constellations” are arranged in a series of graceful forms on hand-made paper, but without the hands that hold them close. And in the “Travelers” series, what seem to be Asian-inspired dresses and robes composed onto handwoven tussar silk float gently off the wall, suggesting the human body could fill the empty space.