Virginia Museum shines a light on untold stories and perspectives

As the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (ICA at VCU) enters its fifth year, it provides a platform for under-represented perspectives articulated in a range of media. Like many leaders of cultural and educational institutions across the southern United States working on the legacy of historical trauma, CIA Director Dominic Willsdon explores how to articulate a break with the past without denying history. The museum’s current and upcoming programming convincingly demonstrates how institutions can look back while moving forward.

Disable it by New York-based multidisciplinary composer and artist Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste (until June 12) is an immersive sound exhibit that uses frequencies that fall just below human audibility. The exhibition, which is shared between the ICA and the neighboring 1708 gallery, continues Toussaint-Baptiste’s research into what he calls “hyper-audible” object environments, using a car’s audio system as most recognizable bass transmitter. He composes his work as a musical arrangement to analyze how the bass affects cities and their inhabitants. The artist works in a minimal black aesthetic intended to symbolize the shared black experience, creating low frequencies and vibrations that function as sonic representations of minimalism. Disable it presents a new iteration of his work Get down, which refers to the painting by Kazimir Malevich from 1915 Black square.

Detailed view of Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Get Low (The Fall / The Drop) (2021) at the Institute of Contemporary Art of VCU Photo by David Hale

Later this month, the ICA opens an exhibition featuring two Latin American artists who tackle injustice through figuration. Aquí Me Quedo / Here I stay (January 28-June 19), guest curator by Miguel A. López (TEOR / éTica), stages a dialogue between Costa Rican artist Sila Chanto (1969-2015) and Dominican artist Belkis Ramírez (1957-2019) . Both worked with printmaking, particularly large-scale woodcuts, to criticize misogynistic violence and male control of the patriarchal societies in which they both lived. Chanto’s printmaking techniques incorporated supernatural images that addressed marginalization and belonging, as well as the fragile nature of life. Ramírez’s prints typically combine figuration and abstract drawings to explore the vulnerability of the body, gender stereotypes, and sexual harassment of women.

A very different approach to figuration is at the origin of the first solo exhibition of the Ghanaian artist Gideon Appah, Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes, which opens at the ICA on February 11 with a mix of newly commissioned works and pieces dating back to 2019. Appah’s paintings draw on Ghana’s National Archives of Popular Culture Images, in particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s, reflecting a sense of national memory and pride in the first decades following the country’s independence. The artist applies thick acrylic paint in the middle of glued layers of materials such as photographs, posters and prints. The dynamism of the scenes he creates gives his subjects a distinctive character. Although his work is undoubtedly figurative, through loose brushstrokes and homogeneous blends he creates areas of tremendous abstract force.

Working between abstraction and figuration to present marginalized perspectives, ICA’s list of current and upcoming exhibitions – from Toussaint-Baptiste’s minimalist vision on audibility in urban spaces, to Chanto’s courageous images of injustice and Ramírez, and Appah’s renderings of his country’s history – emphasizes the imperative issues.

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