By Ryan Nabulsi
On April 16th, 2010, Archetype Gallery opened The New Pan-African Ideal featuring various works from a nationally selected group of artists. According to Archetype’s press release, “Pan-Africanism seeks to promote the unification of all Africans and those affected by the Diaspora.” Curator Christopher Hutchinson chose a variety of works from photography to multimedia installation pieces that he said displayed the shared experience of colonialism. Through the work, Hutchinson hoped to encourage a dialogue that would broaden the definition of Pan-Africanism to account for a multitude of narratives. By doing so, Hutchinson believed that Pan-Africanism can be strengthened through the discourse of shared experiences. Without new dialogues that examine the reaches of colonialism, Hutchinson said the ideal of Pan-Africanism “sputters.” Because of the Presidency of Barack Obama, Hutchinson stated that now is the key time to reflect on Pan-Africanism; to create a New Pan-African Ideal.
Echoing Hutchinson’s belief that now is the key time to reflect on Pan-Africanism, works such as “Year One: Political Statement” by John Tindel, “I Am What I Am” by Carla Aaron-Lopez and Zachary Friedline employed images of President Obama to investigate different issues of colonialism. Tindel’s piece displays a waist up portrait of Obama in a tuxedo with a Karl Marx pin attached to the breast of his jacket, champagne bottle in one hand and a glass in the other; Obama’s legs have become part of a fish/whale springing out of the water with “Good Day Socialism” written on it in the style of the American Flag. A bright yellow halo/sun appears to surround Obama’s head. Obama’s picture, an appropriation from some unidentifiable press-photo, has been decorated with signs that brand him the savior of the “lefty liberals.” Tindel does not appear to condemn or praise Obama; but rather leaves the interpretation for the viewer. Is Obama a savior, as suggested by the halo/sun surrounding him? Or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as suggested by the contradiction of socialist ideals which the champagne Obama seems to offer? In Aaron-Lopez’s “I Am What I Am,” a printed scan of a collage, Obama’s image again is appropriated and transformed. Aaron-Lopez takes a picture of Obama smiling and places it on another body with a script tattoo reading “I Am What I Am.” Ripped strips of unidentifiable magazine surround Obama’s head with colors of red, yellow, black and gray. “I Am What I Am,” seems to incorporate all the different expectations of the Obama Presidency, but answers those questions in the title and tattoo; Obama is the first African-American President, but also only one person. Staying true to Hutchinson’s aim, “I Am What I Am” asks the viewer to be wary of prophetic claims of complete change and realize that change has to come with everyone not simply one person. Like Tindel’s work, Aaron-Lopez addresses the expectations and realities of the Obama Presidency. On the other hand, Friedline’s “Vehicle of Deceit,” a multimedia piece in which the artist has constructed an apparatus where Obama appears as a puppet whose strings are being pulled by four blue donkeys, places less emphasis on Obama the person and focuses more on the entire structure of politics. In Friedline’s work, Obama is not a savior figure or an individual, but is reduced to a piece of the intricate machinery surrounding him with no control of his own movements. Friedline seems to point the viewer towards the structure and system instead of individual participants. These three works represent just a sampling of the interesting and challenging work represented at Archetype Gallery. Taken as a whole, the works in The New Pan-African Ideal provide a wide and interesting interpretation of Pan-Africanism offering no single version, instead asking the viewers to participate in the creation of the new ideal.
The New Pan-African Ideal will be open until May 13th and can be viewed during regular gallery hours or by appointemnt. For more information visit their website, www.archetypeartgallery.com .