Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II at SWIM Gallery

Shotgun Review

Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II at SWIM Gallery

By Kelly Kirkland February 20, 2019

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Kelly Kirkland reviews Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II at SWIM Gallery in San Francisco.

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Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II, on view at SWIM Gallery, is a show that is first and foremost about bodies. Encompassing video, drawing, photography, and installation, the featured works respond to lived experiences of non-white (and, specifically, Black and Brown) femme-identified persons. Taylor Davis and Grace Sanabria, the show’s curators, state, “The artists in Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II oppose the binds of historic fetishization on femme bodies and cultures not rooted in whiteness.”

Upon entering the exhibition space, viewers encounter the sweet stays heavy and heavy and heavier (2018), a two-channel video on a mounted screen by the Oakland-based multidisciplinary artist, Yetunde Olagbaju. The soundless video opens with a close-up of a Black actor placing stickers of Mammy figurines onto their bare breast. A thick liquid (Aunt Jemima syrup, perhaps) is poured across their chest; as it drips down their body, the stickers slowly release from their skin, sliding off as gravity loosens their hold, and the actor wipes the sticky substance off their body with a red handkerchief. 

Placing images of Mammy, a de-sexed fiction invented by the white imaginary, onto a Black femme breast, the site of the Mammy’s domestic labor, is an act that is heavy with intention. The sticky-sweet release of these historically oppressive images serves as a moving conceptual entry point into the exhibition, for Olagbaju’s video draws out the historical binaries that the rest of the works in the show push against.

Yetunde Olagbaju. the sweet stays heavy and heavy and heavier, 2018 (video still); 5:51. Courtesy of the Artist and SWIM Gallery. 

In a mixed-media installation resembling a New-Age altar, Sara Gonzalez-Bautista fills a corner of the gallery with offering trays containing fleshy silicone and epoxy forms that, at first glance, alternately resemble food items or human breasts. Amid a cosmic collage of prayer candles and oracle-deck cards, a platter of peaches rests on a place mat decorated with an embroidered eggplant. Emojis of peaches and eggplants are associated with sex. These widely distributed and consumed symbols serve as conduits for cultural knowledge and communication. In blending the sacred, secular, figural, and abstract, the artist creates a personal universe of spiritual understanding.

The twelve artists of color included in Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II assert their physical and spiritual presences to challenge prescribed notions of gendered and sexual difference. In her poem s m i l e, Azha Ayanna writes, “when will black womxn not be desexualized/hypersexualized? / fetishized/deemed undesirable? / when will black womxn not be dehumanized?” Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II emphatically responds: Here and now.

Exotify Elsewhere Pt. II was on view at SWIM Gallery in San Francisco through February 10, 2019.

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