“The Villain, 2018” 2019 Whitney Biennial
Artist Unknown, “No Mask.” “The female face of a mask from the no theater of Japan smiles at us. She smiles at the many masks we ourselves wear in the world. Not all the actors of the classical no theater of Japan wear masks, but the protagonist always wears one, and—since all the actors are male—female roles of whatever importance always require a mask. There are ten masks for women, which vary according to age or, more subtly, according to the nuance of a certain age.”
Ralph Gibson, “Déjà-vu, 1971.” Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’ always comes to mind. A picture literally about eyes and seeing. The second wave of photography and surrealism.
Bashi-Bazouk, 1868-69. Photo taken at the Met.
When I moved to Brooklyn, New York, I was fascinated by the ways in which everyday headpieces became regal on the heads of my sitters—many of whom I scouted on Nostrand Avenue for the series Du-Rags. I would buy these utilitarian headdresses from the bodegas and beauty shops in my neighborhood and invite each model to be photographed in my Crown Heights apartment. What originally started as an exploration of Black beauty became an intimate look at these figures ascending into divine order.
Considering the interplay of portraiture and still life, Tribe is a series of photographs made over several months in a daylight studio in New York. Using African decorative masks and objects acquired from the home of a friend, Tribe poses questions about the representation of ethnicity in the history of the photographic medium. Alternatively, the series asks the question: ‘What constitutes something as authentic or true?’ By the juxtaposition of contemporary models with stylized objects, Tribe insists on blurring the line between past and present, the natural and the synthetic.
The Hoods series is about the micro-aggression of misidentification. Using my own hoodies and hooded jackets, I cast subjects ranging in race, gender and age to raise questions surrounding what Claudia Rankine coined as the ‘racial imaginary.’ Interested in the history of the hood as an anthropological object, each subject is situated against a blank wall, out of a specific context, and rendered with intense clarity and detail. The hooded solitary figure becomes a mirror for the viewer to contemplate his or her own assumptions and bias.
My earliest introduction to visual art was religious painting. In 2011, I began approaching men on public transit, asking to make their portrait. I developed and employed my own language of iconography and symbolism through picture making—chiaroscuro, sacred geometry and poetics of the image that referenced religious themes. The title, Immaculate, refers to the light and how it is applied to the body.
John Edmonds (b. 1989) is an American artist and photographer who first came to public recognition with his intimate portraits of lovers, close friends and strangers. He earned his MFA in Photography from Yale University and his BFA at the Corcoran School of Arts & Design. His work explores themes of identity, community and desire. Noted for his highly formalist photographs in which he focuses on the performative gestures and self-fashioning of young black men on the streets of America, his work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Columbus Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, SFMoMA, and the Brooklyn Museum. In 2018, TIME Magazine listed his debut monograph, Higher, as one of the top 25 Photobooks of the year. Recent exhibitions include tête à tête at the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin at David Zwirner, Family Pictures at the Milwaukee Art Museum and Face to Face at the California African American Museum. Residencies include: the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME; Light Work, Syracuse, NY; and the Banff Centre, Banff, AB. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York and is on faculty at Yale University and the School of Visual Arts, NY. Edmonds is represented by Company Gallery.