“Material Intimacies” is an ongoing exhibition at NXTHVN, a gallery and organization in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood that empowers “emerging artists and curators of color through education and access”. “Material Intimacies” curators Michelle Phương Ting and Claire Kim have created an exhibition that both indicts and provides means of resistance to colonial practices. Contemporary artists Wesley Chavis, Natalie Diaz, Candice Lin, Stephanie A. Lindquist, Yvette Mayorga, Hương Ngô, Natani Notah, and Zina Saro-Wiwa utilize materials exploited for colonial projects in order to highlight intimate connections that are broken or forged despite long histories of violence and subjugation. Though united by this common thread, each artist created unique forms which the curators have juxtaposed into a visually stimulating and diverse viewing experience.
Natani Notah’s Inner Child is the first piece that greets the viewer at the NXTHVN entrance (Figure 1). Made from an amalgamation of leather scraps, jean fabric, seed beads, thread, acrylic paint, faux fur, artificial sinew, and plastic corn pellets, the structure and scale of Inner Child are reminiscent of a baby in the fetal position. Long seams, running from end to end, echo the curvature of a human spine, and tufts of hair at either end encourage the viewer to fully circle the work, searching for a top and bottom or head and feet that remain ambiguous. The structure is vulnerable, lying down, exposed to prying eyes. According to the artist, “sewing is a metaphor for collective healing.” The act of sewing creates and strengthens connections severed by colonial violence and joins traditional, natural, indigenous materials with equally important, new and artificial ones.
Easy to miss hidden behind a door in the corner opposite the front desk and Notah’s work, is a separate viewing space for three short films by Zina Saro-Wiwa that propose that “people of the African diaspora experience intimacies beyond Western conceptions of physical attraction” (Figure 2). The remainder of the exhibition is in one room straight across from the entrance. This part of the exhibition is the strongest. With many pieces shown together, the arrangement of this room reiterates NXTHVN’s emphasis on community and collective action. The works here include video, photographs, pottery and found and everyday objects. Yvette Mayorga’s Monuments of the Forgotten is front and center, a rectangle of evenly spaced shoes covered in acrylic piping (Figure 3). These shoes, which Mayorga collected from residents of Austin, Texas, create a shrine and memorial to the many migrants fleeing persecution, poverty and war often related to American colonial intervention in their home countries. Some of the shoes come in pairs and some are alone, like those left behind by migrants at the US-Mexico border. Each shoe physically marks someone’s life and individual history, and the bright acrylic piping decorates what some might consider trash, instead raising these objects to ones worthy of care and attention.
The curators of “Material Intimacies” have successfully created an exhibition that “examines intimacy as an encounter shaped by colonialism’s globalizing force.” Each artist uses the materials commodified for the colonial project in order to create art that is elevated in a white wall gallery space while forging new relationships and bonds in the face of violence, exploitation, and displacement. Further small touches, such as books by Claudia Rankine and Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Poem are placed next to the chairs by the front desk. Even a resting visitor cannot avoid confronting histories of colonialism and racism because, outside of the gallery space, these violent forces are the foundation for every aspect of our political, economic, and social structures.
“Material Intimacies” is on display through January 18th, 2021. NXTHVN galleries are free and open to the public Wednesday to Sunday, 2-6pm, or by appointment. More information: https://www.nxthvn.com/calendar/material-intimacies/.