Flash Art

March, 2004


In “Blowup,” the newest show of work by Lyle Ashton Harris, the self-portraiture for which he became known in the ‘90s surfaces in only one image, that of Harris in jockey briefs and boxing gloves, howling as blood streams from his temple and drips across his chest. Many of the large-scale silver gelatin prints on display depict crowd scenes from Italian soccer matches, though at first glance a number of these, Much as Amor De Mi Vida or Verona #2 could as easily have come from coverage of the recent anti-war protests staged around the globe. 

Harris’ masses swarm with all the charged exuberance of a riot: bare-chested men climb chain link fences, wave banners and cling to lighting poles. They are ostensibly held in check by rows of nightstick-wielding polizia, also shown in close- up roan1ing the periphery of the crowd in berets and stiff-collared uniforms, gazing through the protective plastic face-shields attached to their helmets. It’s a notable subterfuge that the law enforcement figures -in Polizia (Mille Luce), for instance – are the only individuals framed by Harris’ lens, distinct from the crowd. 

In the gallery’s front room, these images of crowds are replaced by the media through which crowds are represented, taking the form of a collage Harris dates from 1981-2004. Transparencies, Polaroids, Post-it notes, newspaper headlines and magazine covers, advertisements and press photos litter a smallish section of wall. A theme throughout the show, soccer here becomes a metaphor for the cultural transmission of popularly-held racial stereotypes. In one recurring full-page newspaper advertisement for Adidas, the celebrity player Zidane receives a foot scrub from a black pedicurist, and smiles broadly. The crowds depicted in his fan frenzy shots are perhaps indistinguishable from the masses that perpetuate the wormy concepts racial hatred: it’s up to those. who stand between them to decide what they prefer to protect.