Todd Gray’s layered artistry on display at Pomona College Museum of Art

African American male artist Todd Gray stands in front of his piece. The piece combines two photographs, one of a park in Paris and the other of some mountains on fire.
Artist Todd Gray stands in front of his piece “Euclidean Gris Gris (Paris/Cape Town)” at the Pomona College Museum of Art. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Juxtaposition is king at Todd Gray’s new “Euclidean Gris Gris” exhibition, which opened Sept. 3 at the Pomona College Museum of Art. The exhibition will be the last housed at the current art museum building on College Avenue, as the newly-constructed Benton Museum of Art across the street is eyeing a fall 2020 opening. 

The PCMA describes “Euclidean Gris Gris” as being part of “Gray’s ongoing artistic examination of the legacies of colonialism in Africa and Europe.” 

The exhibition’s title sets up a contrast between Western Euclidean geometry and African gris gris. In a Sept. 14 conversation with scholar Nana Adusei-Poku and moderator professor Phyllis Jackson, Gray said, “the gris gris is the spirit. The gris gris is that which cannot be said but is.” 

The pieces in the show are not fixed, meaning Gray will continuously add new works to the gallery, according to PCMA senior curator Rebecca McGrew. 

“I’ve never before made an academic year-long show with works rotating out,” she said. “There are three other of Gray’s artworks in our storage vault that will rotate in, and he will make more works.” 

The gallery features a wall drawing, which frames the entrance to the exhibition and a set of 10 photographic pieces. In Gray’s work, photographs are placed together in a collage-like manner and surrounded by ornate frames. His images are pulled largely from his personal collection, ranging from galaxies to angular gardens and figures with concealed heads. 

“Every photograph poses a question and not one photograph offers an answer,” Gray said on his relationship to photography. “Photography enslaves us, it enslaves our thinking. It creates false narratives that we think are true … We think, ‘I see it, therefore it is real.’” 

Seven female college students admire a piece of art in a museum. The piece layers an image of a garden in Paris and some mountains on fire.
Students from Char Miller’s “Nature, Culture and Society” class visit Todd Gray’s exhibit at the Pomona College Museum of Art. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

In his piece “Parisian Hoods in Bamboo Village,” a photo of a bound and hooded figure is contrasted against a larger photo of a bamboo garden. Another piece, “Francis,” is “layered with a signature image from Todd, the Ghanian man in the white clothing, which are colonial clothes,” McGrew said. 

“Longing on a Large Scale,” a monthly series of nine events planned by Adusei-Poku and inspired by the exhibition, will follow the opening. 

“I asked if [Adusei-Poku] would please collaborate with me and make the program component as part of the work, to contextualize the work so we can speak in specific,” Gray said during the museum conversation.  

On the purpose of “Longing on a Large Scale,” Adusei-Poku said, “I try to find ways to convey knowledge and to learn … through curating and being in conversation with the artist.”

The program includes artists and thinkers who “work to unpack colonial paradigms and explore strategies of resistance,” according to the PCMA. 

The events include a Sept. 19 tour and talk on black art in museums by Bridget R. Cooks, associate professor in the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine. Christina Sharpe, professor of humanities at York University, will connect the notions of wake, ship, hold and weather to “existence and non-existence as a Black person in the world” in a talk on Oct. 24.

“Todd Gray: Euclidean Gris Gris” will be on view at the Pomona College Museum of Art through May 17, 2020. 

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