Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'Plantation' review - The Item - Sumter

Exhibitions provoke discussion, reflection

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
By Jane G. Collins - Special to The Item

Colin Quashie's "Faces of Color: John" can be viewed at the Sumter County Gallery of Art through Jan. 11.
The two current Sumter Gallery of Art's exhibits - Colin Quashie's "The Plantation (Plan-ta-shun)" and Fahamu Pecou's "Native Sun" - are not for the fainthearted or people with single-sided vision. They afford, however, provocative situations for discussion and reflection.

I am "treading on eggshells" when I suggest leaving preconceived notions at home, recalling that the very act of depolarization has, in some ways, led to greater polarization, whether it be music, art, politics, ethnicity, body types or even clothing. Quashie believes that nobody really wants to discuss slavery or confront the real issues; no one really is comfortable with the topic. His intent is to encourage discussion and acknowledgement of the impact of plantation life. The issues go way beyond slavery.

Quashie's often acerbic humor gains strength thorough his concept of suggesting what plantation life would have been like IF it had the advantages of today's media marketing (or what it would be like in today's society).

Be prepared to read as well as visually respond, for his use of sarcasm, satire and irony are reinforced through both avenue.

The three paintings at the Ackerman entrance proclaim Quashie's skill. They represent the present and his neighbors and lead the focus into the relationship of the past to the present and people's connection to the past. His delicate portraits are fused with the background - present with the past - and avoid forcing the eye to see past layers of paint or complex technique to respond to the three. The large drawing at the end of the aisle invites the viewer into the plantation while the two "Resumes," taken from archival advertisements for runaway slaves, suggest his clever irony.

In today's society, there seems to be a magazine for everything from makeup to motorcycles, travel to trash. Quashie's IF concept is projected in "Plantation Digest," a publication every plantation owner would have enjoyed. The topics are filled with sarcasm, yet an honest assessment of issues which often faced plantation owners. The ads visually increase his concern of the seriousness of his topics: "Look Solid with Stripes" features a slave whose back has been severely whipped, and, as on several pages, is sponsored by "J. Crow" (yes, the pun is intended). "Tradition White Is Timeless" with the starched white tux shirt and black noose tie is a fitting foil for editor William Lynch's comment on the master's nighttime strolls. Of course, the FLED EX and Harriet Tubman Twitter (and the website DunceKKKap) ads further satirize the benefit of modern communication to plantation life. Even the pull-out perfume strip for Mandingo - a helpful way to scent out African deserters - and the address label project the aura of "seriousness."

Equally as provocative and evocative are his "Plantation Properties" - remember "The future is right behind you " - and his "Plantation Palette." There is no avoiding the issue in his "Savory," sponsored by the Bar-B Crew. Just like paint swatches from Lowe's, there are even degrees of hues and tints. His carefully reworked Monopoly game and coloring book add to the message. Quashie's pieces emphasize his desire for a "reality check." In his "Rainbro Row," he alludes to the false history perpetuated by connecting Rainbow Row in Charleston to the "glorious past," since it really wasn't even in existence until the buildings were painted the pastel colors, according to Quashie, in 1917 in an effort to clean up the neighborhood.

When he was stopped by a drawbridge several years ago, Quashie looked toward the McLeod plantation and saw a row of whitewashed houses. What if they were colored in pastels? Then would more people be drawn to the real history of the area? Another important painting is his Louis Vuitton/slave picture on the back side of the "Resumes." Both figures are moving rapidly, one with a noose around his neck and the other "toting" a brief case. However, both seem to be making no progress: they move, but always in the same direction and the same awkward movement.

Quashie often gives color to the present and relegates the past to black and white. In the delicate portrait in the hall, the gentleman in the rumpled blue suit is dignified by his white hair and erect posture. He is wearing his best. The woman in the background in black and white represents the past. The artist admits that the desk, blackboard and notepad are important to his goal. He is hoping that people will take time to acknowledge the topic, to confront the reality, and to work toward the truth of the times.

Pecou's paintings are lively, colorful and strong. Since he uses himself as the focal vehicle, at first glance the exhibit seems less controversial. However, he implies much about perception and preconceived notions, particularly about the black male, in today's society. Using himself as an allegory for people's preconceived notions of the black male mystique, Pecou creates a visual discussion, his own slender shape an interesting contrast to the strong, muscular stereotype.

"Shades" dominate many of the pictures. There is the blatant "in your face" smoky haze in "Irony," part of Pecou's "All that Glitters Ain't Goals" series. The humorous posture in his "Stupoman," complete with cape, the covers for "Efface the Nation Art Books for Blak Presidential," with the glasses, cigar and mustache and the figure seeming to search for his identity in "Baby Boi" colorfully reveal his "parody on our obsession with celebrity, our exploitation of black masculinity and the divide that racial ignorance and stereotypes perpetuate." The "HVY Weight Chump" and "Role Model Citizen WWSDay" further encourage the viewer to rethink the concept of typical black males and what motivates both the culture and perception.

"Shiny Things" and "Lush" focus on the male form loaded with "typical" black male accessories - glasses, smokes, tons of jewelry. Yet "Lush" seems to push the negativity - he is sporting more chains with skulls and other "hood" and "gang" symbols; in the background is the muted shape of a liquor bottle forming the statement "RIP," a specific indictment of where this type behavior often leads black males.

Pecou also uses black and white contrast to suggest time and relationship. "When We Were Kings" and "You Don't Know the Half of It" cleverly use the technique as discourse for position, power and potential problems. His video "i/EGRESS/ion" includes a somewhat tongue-in-cheek visual of his trying to put on the mantle of masculinity and rise to the stereotypical occasion.

The two exhibits work well together. Although their artistic styles seem different, Quashie and Pecou communicate important concerns of culture and perception, especially about the black's role in history and society and differing cultural viewpoints. The exhibits encourage contemplation and soul searching through creative and well articulated art.

The Sumter County Gallery of Art, 200 Hasell St., Sumter, presents exhibitions by Colin Quashie and Fahamu Pecou from Nov. 9 to Jan. 11, 2013. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call (803) 775-0543 for more information.

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