At Monique Meloche’s West Town gallery, an array of oil paintings by Santa Cruz-born artist Kajahl explore the Blackamoor. Blackamoor comes from the early modern period of art, showcasing highly stylistic figures that depict the lives of people European artists imagined lived in territories unknown to them. Kajahl explores the concept of the Blackamoor through extravagant illustrations of Black subjects. The gaze in each oil painting reveals a prominent aspect of the experience, with each figure looking back at themselves and the viewer caught in between the gazes.
Each figure Kajahl paints, from “Tigress Guardian In Palmtree Oasis” to “Star Gazer In Solitude,” provoke wonder and intrigue into their decorative apparel and majestic gestures. The concept of fantasy seems foundational for Kajahl. As they reimagine the Blackamoor, the warriors, the scientists and the scholars all take on their own reworked narrative that leaves plenty to the imagination.
Kajahl touches on the negative and racialized aspects of the Blackamoor from the foundational constructions yet removes the historical notions that have traveled with it through time. Blackamoors have long been a part of large-scale sculptures. More often than not they are looked at as African slaves and racist notions come from an association with slavery and colonialism. Kajahl takes a different approach by keeping the core of the Blackamoor, the skin tone, yet changing the background story.
“Alchemist” (2020) is a fit and chiseled figure. The slight glimpse of the pectoral muscles provokes sexual desire, yet the eye contact between the figure and the vessel in their hand takes the viewers eyes away from the physical and slowly reveals their emotional passion. The deepest black of the skin is extremely pure and so dark that every motion and contour glistens. The draping of cloth around their neck provokes elegance.
The viewer is forced to contemplate the unknown through the fantasy Kajahl creates, while also confronting the history of the Blackamoor as we mentally unwrite this through viewing this exhibition. As we imagine images and notions of Blackness being burdened with negativity we also are able to live and experience the other side. The power of imagination and the visual experience Kajahl gives the viewer is one that transcends words. The emotional toll that the Blackamoor has confronted through its own complex history forges a new, equally complex one through these images. (Caira Moreira-Brown)
“Royal Specter” is on view at Monique Meloche, 451 North Paulina, through December 19. Appointment required.