An Exhibition in New York seeks to re-connect a multitude of black histories and identities

Refraction: New Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora, a photo exhibition presenting a generation of photographic artists of African descent born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s premiers today at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York.

The exhibition, which features 12 artists residing in Luanda, Paris, Philadelphia, Addis Ababa, New York and beyond, aims to portray black bodies in acts of cultural meditation, and revive the traditional African rites of masking, costuming, quilting, body ornamentation and invocation of spirits through works of art.

“They refract those rituals through the lenses of contemporary art practices such as performative self-portraiture, collage, montage and digital manipulation,” the Gallery’s press release states. “They merge cultures past and present, looking towards a more inclusive, harmonious future.”

Stan Squirewell, King Kane, 2017. Courtesy: Steven Kasher Gallery

“Refraction is an ocular cleanse. The work of these artists bridges the gap between Black stereotypes and Black reality. The photographs in the exhibition navigate the complex relationship between innate identities and identities evolved from social, political and cultural influences. On a technical level, these artists are heralds of new dimensions in photography, bending, transmuting and pushing the medium.” the Gallery says in their curatorial statement.

Cultural anthropologist and independent curator Niama Safia Sandy co-curated Refraction with Steven Kasher Gallery director Cassandra Johnson. Sandy says the aspect of the exhibit’s name, “new photography of Africa and its diaspora,” was intentional, as they wanted to authentically include the African diaspora when one hears of it in the art market, especially.

Adama Delphine Fawundu, The Sacred Star of Isis, 2018. Courtesy: Steven Kasher Gallery

The works curated for Refraction range from Afro-futurism to Afro-documentary, some navigating this world and others inventing new ones with an eye to the conceptual, even fantastical. Blending fact and allegory, the real and the imagined, the present and the future, their language is a mixed vocabulary of photography, sculpture and performance as the photographs seek to reclaim and re-connect a multitude of Black histories and identities.

Documentary styles of Girma Berta, an award winning young artist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Eyerusalem Adugna Jirenga also based in Ethiopia, both under 30, will provide contemporary outlooks on the urban African environment. While Hakeem Adewumi, Emilie Regnier and Zarita Zevallos make portraits that examine cross-cultural signifiers, such as leopard print, with a charged cinematic beauty.

Adama Delphine Fawundu, a Sierra Leonian photographer based in New York, and Ivan Forde, a Guyanese born Harlem raised photographer, use sewn collage and cyanotype with elaborate, dreamlike compositions to create modern representations of spiritual icons and ancient myths like Mami Wata and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Adama Delphine Fawundu, Passageways #2: Secrets, Traditions, Spoken and Unspoken Truths or Not, 2017. Courtesy: Steven Kasher Gallery

“These images act as flares in our cultural consciousness. They confront and expose existing narratives as social constructs that will never be more than approximations of a more complex reality'” the Gallery says in the statement. “As Sarah Lewis says, “How many movements began when an aesthetic encounter indelibly changed our past perceptions of the world?” The imagination inspired by aesthetic encounters can get us to the point of benevolent surrender, making way for a new version of our collective selves.”

The exhibition will be on view April 19th – June 2nd, 2018 in New York.