Artist Lyle Harris skirted questions at the opening reception of “Glyphs: Acts of Inscription,” the new exhibition at the Pitzer College Nichols and Kallick Family galleries, on Sept. 19. Instead, he asked the audience, “What
do you see?”
“Glyphs” is a challenge. Each piece in the exhibition pushes
its viewers to investigate normative conceptualizations of race, gender, sexual
orientation, and their associated politics. The trick to art saturated with
social commentary is its emphasis on individual experience. Artists like Harris
challenge their audience to develop a unique relationship with art and the
issues they represent.
The exhibition, which was curated by London-based Renée Mussai and Pitzer’s Assistant Professor of Media Studies Ruti Talmor, is primarily composed of photography meant
to mimic iconic images and disrupt their status quo interpretations.
Featured artists include Harris, Zanele Muholi, Cheryl
Dunye, John Akomfrah, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Mwangi Hutter, Andrew Putter,
Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.
Zanele Muholi, a South African photographer and visual
activist, photographs individuals involved in the black lesbian community in
Cape Town, Johannesburg, Botswana, and Paarl. The collection of images on
display in “Glyphs”, called “Faces and Phases,” provides exposure to an estranged
demographic in an obstinate South Africa.
Muholi’s method transforms an issue fairly distant from
mainstream media and practically invisible to the general public into a series
of photographs. The photographs serve to create a tangible personality of the subjugation of the
South African lesbian community.
Artist Cheryl Dunye presents a documentary called Introducing
Fae Richards: Excerpts from the Watermelon Woman. It is about a struggling
filmmaker and her pursuit of 1930s actress Fae Richards, who appeared in the credits as “watermelon woman” after starring in the film Plantation Memories. The short documentary
addresses the stereotyped racial roles in the early 20th century
“Looking back at racial politics through the lens of, and
while dealing with, contemporary human rights issues is an interesting approach,” Sanford Glickman PZ ’17 said in response to Dunye’s documentary. “I think
Dunye, based on the clips I saw, presents the respective issues in a funny,
easily absorbed way—that’s the most important part of films like this.”
Harris is an internationally renowned artist and
Associate Professor of Art and Art Professions at New York University. His
work deals with race and gender in modernist society. In a series of self-portrait
photographs, he imitates classic images of Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday
as a way to push the viewer into critical thought.
Harris’s work relies upon on a retrospective lens of
American culture to experiment with the post-civil-rights notion of black
female icons. He uses monochromatic Polaroid dye diffusion prints, and his
portraits are sharp, intensely shadowed black-and-white images.
As indicated by his opening question, Harris prefers not
to talk about what he sees in his work, but rather to focus on the reaction that
it provokes. He suggests that the subjective experience of the viewer is the
core purpose as it relates to political art pieces.
“Glyphs: Acts of Inscription” is open Tuesday through
Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Pitzer’s Broad Center.