Postcolonial Contemporary at Incline Gallery
John Zarobell’s smartly curated Postcolonial Contemporary ties history, geography, and imperialism with our many hyphenated identities. Beginning in the late 15th century, European powers began extensively exploring and colonizing the United States. Now as a majority non-Native population, most of us occupy the U.S. as colonizers. Moreover, as American corporations engage in cultural and economic imperialism, they have replaced the missionaries and explorers of the past. Through extensively researched projects, many artists in Postcolonial Contemporary present wry critiques and unexpected mash-ups on the ways that place, history, and economics intersect with the present.
Artist Frohawk Two Feathers presents a series of seven acrylic and ink paintings, Stations of the Cross (S.O.C.) La Guerra de la Las Cruces (The War of the Crosses) (2016). Through the series, the artist skillfully uses image and text to build a chronology leading up to the Siege of San Francisco (1794–95). In his first work in the series, the artist’s title balances the official language of place and history with his own interpretation of the events. The descriptive titles posits itself as Map of North-Central California or The cross was melted down to make a chain and some of us got down with that but most of us was like nah son. In this work, as the artist depicts mountains and rivers, he includes roughly drawn images and text that maps out the Spanish and Eastern Orthodox missionaries’ attempts to convert native populations and the battles with Russian and Spanish soldiers over the fur trade. Unflinchingly Two Feathers identifies these conversions and battles as “failed,” “successful,” and “massacres” in the paintings themselves and in their titles.
Lewis Desoto also examines the intersection of religious and economic interests, but through the DeSoto line of automobiles. In DESOTO CONQUEST (Sales Poster and Requiremento) (2016), the artist uses the visual language of advertising to announce a “new” DeSoto Conquest for ’65, a model based on the stylistics of the ’60s, but fabricated and designed by the artist. With the DeSoto division named after the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto and his own personal lineage of Spanish and Cahuilla, the automobile, explorer, and artist all share the name DeSoto and a history as conqueror and conquered. At the bottom quarter of the poster, the artist includes a lengthy, opaquely written requiremento: a legal document that Hernando de Soto read to Native Americans during colonization. The text absolved Spanish soldiers and missionaries for the murder and brutality that they enacted on Native populations by putting the onus upon the indigenous people for resisting the Spaniard’s divinely granted right. In DeSoto’s artwork, the requiremento is graphically laid out much like the fine print in present day advertisements (like those for pharmaceuticals or credit cards), where jargon and intricate logic protects the interests of the powerful. Corporations, like colonizers of the past, eschew their culpability by issuing impenetrable disclaimers. Historically and presently, many have agreed to these imposing legal documents under duress and without fully comprehending the ramifications.
In Enrique Chagoya’s Untitled (After Edward Curtis) (2016), the artist inserts a billboard featuring an Apple iPad Mini and the all-seeing eye of the American dollar in the expansive and unspoiled Western landscape of Edward Curtis’ An Oasis in the Badlands (1905). The West and the American West, specifically the Bay Area, are places where money and corporate interests saturate the visual and physical landscape. Famously, Curtis attempted to capture an “authentic” picture of the “vanishing” Native American Indians, which was a somewhat problematically conceived and executed enterprise. Chagoya also includes a small, shadowy figure leaping across a small pool of water, a reference to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare St. Lazare (1932). Cartier-Bresson’s image embodies what the photographer termed the “decisive moment,” the creative point when a photographer acts upon the world to frieze a moment, rendering it magical. In juxtaposing Curtis and Cartier-Bresson, Chagoya presents two photographic paradigms: one where the photographer is in search of a specific picture and the other that waits for the world to unfold and operates on the serendipity of life. Chagoya almost poses the question about how we intervene on a world where corporate interests threaten the stability of place for those less powerful, when is the “decisive moment”?
In addition to showing established artists like DeSoto and Chagoya, Postcolonial Contemporary also commendably includes local emerging artists. As the show looks to history, it also looks towards the present and future in the artworks and the contributions of younger artists who show great promise in their explorations of the politics of identity and place.
Postcolonial Contemporary (curated by John Zarobell) is on view at Incline Gallery in San Francisco, CA until July 10, 2016.
Images courtesy of Incline Gallery.