CRG presents a new body of work by Lyle Ashton Harris titled “Ghana” which has been inspired by the cultural space that is taking shape at the confluence of contemporary globalization and a rich cultural tradition haunted by the relics of the slave trade.
As spectator and participant, Harris is insider and outsider simultaneously; exploring his personal experience in Ghana, Harris excavates the shared historical legacy of America and Africa. In his video installation, “Untitled (Cape Coast)”, 2008, Harris combines multiple layers of video over hanging panels of printed silk organza. Images of a serene and idyllic beach scene are superimposed with images of the surrounding environment evoking different historical and anthropological layers; fleeting images of traditional Ghanaian festivals overlay a landscape that is home to what was once one of the largest slave trading forts on the former Gold Coast.
While collage has long been integral to Harris’s practice, in his recent “Jamestown Prison Erasure Images,’ exhibited here for the first time, Harris undertakes a visual conversation with wall collages by prisoners who resided in a former colonial era fort, that at one time also held Kwame Nkrumah as a political prisoner prior to taking office as the first president of Ghana upon its independence as a nation in 1957.
The prison collages, consisting of images of cars, women, and other objects of desire, bear an uncanny resemblance to Harris’s large-scale wall collages that incorporate his own photographs with layers of ephemera and other printed material.
“Untitled (Black Power),”2010, a new three channel video work borrows its title from the controversial yet seminal 1957 travel essay by literary giant Richard Wright. Captured here are intimate moments as powerful metaphors for embodied cultural hybridity. Inhabiting the space of a local gym in Accra, Harris traces the rituals movements of Herculean body builders performing repetitions with improvised weights fashioned out of what appear to be welded tractor gears. Harris has divided his time between New York and Accra, Ghana, since 2005, serving as a professor at New York University’s Accra campus. This current body of work has emerged from Harris’s experiences living in Ghana and provides a framework with in which he continues expanding on themes characteristic of his past work: meditations on race, masculinity, and performative gestures captured within the photographic medium. The exhibition includes video as well as collage-based installation and still photographs.
Harris was born in the Bronx and raised in New York City and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. For the past twenty years Lyle Ashton Harris’ work has explored narratives of ethnicity, identity and shifting definitions of self, resulting in significant contributions to the field of contemporary art and photography. Works from earlier projects—Americas, (1987/88); Constructs (1989); The Good Life (1994); Memoirs of Hadrian (2002); and Billies (2002)—have been included in landmark exhibitions such as “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art”, at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1994) and “Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography ” at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1997). Works produced throughout this period continue to be selected for museum shows, including “For the Love of the Game: Race and Sport in America,” at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (2007); “Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970,” at Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2005); “Photography of the Self: The Legacy of F. Holland Day,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2007); and “Kreyol Factory,” at Parc de la Villette, Paris (2009).
This Spring 2010, Excessive Exposure: The Complete Chocolate Portraits. This book, to be published in Spring 2010 by Gregory R. Miller & Co., includes an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a critical essay by Okwui Enwezor and an interview with Chuck Close.