Lyle Ashton Harris: Black Power
STEVENSON, Cape Town, South Africa13 Sep 2017 - 07 Oct 2017
STEVENSON is pleased to present Black Power, an immersive video installation by Lyle Ashton Harris.
Taking its title from the seminal 1954 essay by African-American author and cultural critic Richard Wright, the installation juxtaposes two of the artist’s video works: Untitled (Predawn, Osu, Accra, 2010), 2017, a meditative single-channel work, and Black Power, 2010, a three-channel work depicting physical training at an outdoor neighbourhood gym in Accra. The gym was frequented by a former partner – also featured in the video – who facilitated the artist’s entry into this intimate milieu otherwise accessible only to locals.
Untitled (Predawn, Osu, Accra, 2010) was shot while Harris lived in the district of Osu, the epicentre of cultural activity in Accra. In the early morning hours the artist recorded an exterior scene through the security bars of a window, capturing in real-time the gradual emergence of predawn light amidst intermittent rain showers, muffled thunderclaps and the irregular green flickering of a nearby security floodlight. The quiescent, stationary image of a verdant urban garden is seen throughout; devoid of human presence, it evokes a sense of suspense, of something about to happen.
This serves as a backdrop to Black Power, which is shown across three video monitors in the installation’s foreground. In each frame the amateur bodybuilders engage in unselfconsciously performative rituals, individually intent on achieving some embodiment of a physical ideal through repetitive training. Refusing to occlude his own investment in the erotic capacity of the black male form, the artist’s lens critically engages with the complex dynamics of desire and homosocial interaction expressed through the individuals’ rhythmic movements and virile bearing. The work also comments on cultural hybridity, the bodybuilders’ focused exertions becoming corporeal evidence of the construction of transnational masculinities.
As a seductive montage of sensibilities both hypermasculine and contemplative, public and private, each of the installation’s distinct works implicates viewers in a reflexive engagement of the relation between subjectivity and witnessing. Presented together, they offer a subtle yet potent interrogation of the ethnographic gaze and the continuing legacy of colonialism behind the contemporary forces of global (in)security.
The exhibition opens on Wednesday 13 September, 6 to 8pm, in the presence of the artist.
Lyle Ashton Harris and Zanele Muholi will talk about their exhibitions on Saturday 15 September from 11am. All are welcome.