DETOX is an exhibition centered around the idealization of white men and the consequences of toxic masculinity. Included in DETOX are the works of New Orleans based artists, Kevin Brisco Jr. and Rosalie Smith, Philadelphia based artists Loveis Wise and Chad States, and New York City based artist Flora Wilds. Each of the five artists address the physical manifestations of patriarchy through their practice. The scope of work in this show stands to suggest a treatment plan for our social ills that begins with giving space to marginalized voices.
Marrying concept and portraiture, Brisco presents a simple introduction to the complexity of ‘toxic masculinity’ through figurative works that examine the nature of male interactions and public perceptions of manhood. On display is a portrait of Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known to the public as rapper 21 Savage. This seven foot tall painting depicts a heavily tattooed black rapper, which in American culture is often synonymous with criminality. Brisco is creating this larger than life portrait as a study of the seductive imagery of a fearsome black man. By labelling them as dangerous, we justify the mass incarceration of black men without questioning the innate oppressive forces that are working against them.
In direct conversation with Brisco’s large scale portrait is What Does it Mean to be a Carefree Black Boy?, an original illustration by Loveis Wise. This drawing references a social trend of images of young men in flower crowns, representing an epitome of strength and vulnerability that bucks stereotypes and redefines blackness. Wise’s artwork provides a visual respite of softer colors and familiar imagery. These illustrations stand in contrast with the rest of the work in this exhibition to show a softer side to the fight against oppression. Rather than demonstrating a physical manifestation, Wise’s work presents a message of strength by showing black bodies and sending a reminder to use compassion and make space.
It is with that sense of empowerment that the viewer is confronted with the large scale multi-disciplinary work of Rosalie Smith. Her collage BUT WHAT ABOUT US??? stands at the same height at 21 Savage, but in stark contrast, Smith uses the skin tone of white men to reinforce the invasive nature of white privilege. Created out of hundreds of cut up images of different body parts of white male bodies, BUT WHAT ABOUT US??? appears to lurch forward in a grotesque gesture that embodies the discomfort felt when our rights are violated. This piece alludes to the movement of ‘men’s right activists’ who push back against rhetoric of white men taking blame for social issues. Those who cannot acknowledge their own privilege are often the most defensive at the first signs of threat to their power. Although many who benefit from being white in America would like to ignore their privilege, Smith’s monster leaves no room for denial.
We also see the physical representation of white men in the work of Chad States. States presents the perspective of queer identifying white male and the concept of transcendence through vulnerability. Using video and sculpture to expose intimate parts of the body, this work deals directly with detoxing the body of anxiety and making oneself vulnerable and open. Similarly, in the work of multimedia artist Flora Wilds, we are confronted with the vulnerability of self-perception. Wilds large scale fabric works unapologetically take up space and incorporate the clothing that represents her relationship to her body and herself in the context of patriarchy and a battle with internalized misogyny.
Wilds also references the long history of fabric arts, and the communities of women that have come together to create not only quilts and clothing, but also safe spaces to share and build.
DETOX includes the work of artists whose personal identities fall into the margins and are able to channel their complex encounters with white patriarchy into their work. The concept in this exhibition is for everyone to have space. We exist in current moment of time when stories of survivors are being acknowledged by the larger public and mainstream media, but we have not yet reached our next summit of equality. Therefore, it is more important now than ever to create spaces for the experiences of marginalized people to be heard.
I am interested in workshopping DETOX and then finding a space where it can be exhibited with programmatic support. Included artist Loveis Wise created a zine title Seated, which is the product of a six month long project where Wise interviewed women and non-binary people of color about their experiences after the 2016 election and how they practice self-care. I want to explore interactive and educational aspects of DETOX, such as printing and distributing this zine and other materials. There are opportunities to collaborate with groups such as The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond or Cultural Bridges to Justice to host workshops. Ultimately, I am seeking feedback on how curatorial choices can support and amplify messages of social justice.