Art & Cake, May 2017

“Sweet Sticky Things” Soars at Launch Gallery

Zeal Harris. Sweet Sticky Things at Launch Gallery. Photo Credit Launch Gallery.

“Sweet Sticky Things” Soars at Launch Gallery

By Genie Davis

Lili Bernard, Zeal Harris, and Loren Holland have created an absolutely beautiful show at Launch Gallery. Closed on May 6th, the show focused on empowerment and wonder in a splendid and vibrant homage to black women. The show’s title is taken from the title track of an album by 70’s era funk band the Ohio Players.

There are definitely strong elements of fun, funk, and movement in this show, which both presents a collective vision among the three artists and also shows deeply individual takes on identity, sexuality, and resilience. If there is a common thread above all the others, it is resilience: it’s not easy being Black, female, and American. Collectively and individually, the artists take on subjects from motherhood to race, class, and violence.

Zeal Harris, who organized the exhibition, creates deftly beautiful works in dye sublimation on fabric. As deeply moving as they are political, her highly personal work offers a universal experience as she takes on subjects from police brutality, police killings, and racial profiling with a delicate hand. Her work on fabric creates the feel of something as traditional as quilting and as profound, historic, and reverent as a tapestry or a scroll. She is above all else a story teller, showing here pieces from her Home Remedies for Driving While Black along with works that express Black women’s takes on our current environment. “Parable of Black Governance,” is an autobiographical piece about the artist being hit by a car when she was just four year’s old features the Black female police officer who was there to help her. The multi-panel piece is vividly, colorfully drawn; a compelling story that is warm and rich. Other works are raw and riveting, with dramatic depictions of violence from funerals to police brutality in Baltimore and McKinney, Texas. Her inclusive folk drawing style and the shiny fabric on which her works are printed both contribute to an aura the artist says she wants to project, that her works, and the stories she tells are “valuable.”

Lili Bernard. Cachita-Ochun and the Dragon, 2011. Oil on Canvas, 36”x48″. Sweet Sticky Things at Launch Gallery. Photo Credit Launch Gallery.

Lili Bernard’s bold narrative multi-media work is infused with spiritual images, often icon-like in creation. Installations create ersatz altars to hair salons, and the fetishistic frenzy surrounding hair products for Black women. Her “Psychedelic Christ on the Cross,” an oil on canvas that glows and spins, is jeweled with colors. Here Christ is surrounded by words of praise from Orishas/Yoruba deities, as His eyes connect with the viewer, compelling them toward change. “Say Her Name” is a stunning work memorializing Latasha Harlins as an Orisha in an icon-like image that dazzles and blesses. The artist’s “Self Portrait as Yemaya Under Attack,” combines acrylic paint with glitter, a wig, sequins, and ribbons. This is an intensely autobiographical piece that references the artist’s acute PTSD arising from her horrific experience of rape and intimidation by performer Bill Cosby. Oh, how she shines, glows, triumphs; Yemaya is the mother of fishes and children, and the artist herself is swimming through a sea that is her own survival.

Loren Holland’s work takes on art history itself. Her lush works frequently utilize images of nature in ways that reinvent traditional European-centered art. “The Bathers” is a triptych that riffs on works by Cezanne in which nude women bathe in idyllic pastoral beauty. But in Holland’s world, there’s a peeping-tom in the shadows, binoculars cast aside indicating these women have been invaded before. Also in the water: a Greek vase, the artist’s metaphor for Eurocentric culture. Depicting both vulnerability and beauty, the dominance of one culture over another, Holland goes a long way toward defining beauty and danger, issuing a warning and a clarion call concerning the annals of history.