At Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in West Town, we are introduced to flowing, large flags with tranquil pigmentation for “The Night of the Purple Moon,” the first solo exhibition for French artist Raphaël Barontini in the U. S.
Barontini transforms the space into a world far from COVID-inflected Chicago. This element of otherness is executed through the large pieces, mixed between portraits and flowing canvas, that create an intriguing, rare environment through the use of purple and violet pigments.
The exhibition’s color scheme plays on the tranquility of deeper tones, while adding a spiritual element. The canvases take on their own narrative, with centralized figures holding court in each piece. The bodies borrow physical attributes from classical narratives, specifically from classical ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. The male nude figure was idealized during Neoclassicism and illustrates strength and power.
“Dutty Boukman” (2020) features layered elements, including a masculine head with African features superimposed on the chiseled body of a sculpture, all while resting on a mixture of deep shades of blues and purples with lighter elements of white in between. We see an integration of cultural relics that speak to the Western colonizing of the Caribbean.
Most of the figures in the paintings possess the faces of past enslaved African people. These faces are often breaking the fourth wall as their eyes look beyond their flat format. Barontini roots this show in African identity that is evolved with each collaged element. He is speaking to a larger cultural narrative, that of the French Caribbean.
Barontini integrates his own French-Caribbean background with the title of each piece, from “Toussaint Louverture’s Triumph” (2021), where a green overlay of the leader of the Haitian Revolution’s face rides a horse, amongst purple scenery.
Each piece emphasizes dominance or elegance. The viewer is bombarded with images that spark a need for freedom. The powerful statutes and the elements of power, like chiseled stomachs atop horses, are juxtaposed with the richness and royalty that comes from the use of purple. The exaggeration of emotion evoked off each collaged piece creates a dominating energy.
By integrating these elements, from sculpture to portraiture to the use of silkscreen, Barontini prompts us to question the foundation of our current society. Elements of collaging and differing surfaces to make the point of a blended world more evident.
In addition to the emotions provoked from his use of color, material and space, the exhibition is accompanied by a soundtrack by Mike Ladd. The hypnotic tones create a sensory environment for the viewer. The dark atmosphere of “The Night of the Purple Moon” is created by consistency in the use of purple throughout the show. The story of each canvas is delivered through the deconstructive nature of collaging. Barontini combines various sensory elements that take the viewer to another world within the four walls. (Caira Moreira-Brown)