Andrea Coleman and Warith Taha are two artists who are deeply enmeshed in thinking about time, in how memories are made and how histories are represented. In their concise two-person exhibition, “A Composition of Memory,” at Flxst Contemporary, curator Ciera McKissick deftly pairs work that asks the viewer to question what gets remembered, on both an individual and collective level.
Chicago artist Andrea Coleman, a Newcity 2021 Breakout Artist, digitally manipulates found family photos to stunning effect. Whited-out splotches, copied and repeated details, bright or sometimes subtle spots of color poke holes in the moments on display, obscuring some details and drawing attention to others. In “Backyard on Lowe Street,” two men pose proudly in the foreground, both donning dark shades, while a little girl enters the frame in the lower right corner, staring skeptically at the photographer. The photo is represented in sepia tones, with the sky tinted a pale shade of blue, and light pink and orange shapes dotting the perimeter, giving the captured moment a dreamlike quality. Hung on a faded brick wall in Flxst’s main gallery, the collage reads like a photo damaged by time, mimicking how the memory-keeper in a family might mis-remember or mis-represent the story behind an image.
Taha, who is based in Oakland, also uses collage in some of the works on display. He similarly obscures details in his work, using family photos as well as vintage gay porn magazines, self portraits and found objects. In both “Flying at Half Mast” and “The Graciousness of White Paint,” male figures from these magazines are cut out and arranged in a disembodied arrangement. In “The Graciousness of White Paint,” one man bends over and kisses another figure, whose likeness has been painted over in thick white enamel. Embedded in the image, above the collaged bodies, sits a tiny color photo of two Black men dressed in tuxedos, with their right legs crossed over their left in a tender display of unison.
Also striking are Taha’s found-object sculptures, particularly “How It’s All Held Together,” hung on the galley’s back wall. Measuring sixteen-by-twenty inches, the piece consists of tempered glass strung with a grid of canvas netting. The work is largely painted in primary colors, and is decorated with buttons, a bottle top, cigarette butts and a penny. Visually it recalls something you might see in an African American yard show—an object clearly made by hand with everyday materials. It also feels sacred, perhaps because of the easy-to-miss faces cut from photographs and stacked on top of each other at the top of the netting. Or perhaps it’s the small details that could be either personal or random—fragments of cigarettes, a bottle.
In each of these works, Taha and Coleman share intimate excerpts of their lives and the worlds that shaped them—the quiet joy of a mother and child posing in a meadow or the changing depiction of queer Black sexuality. What’s missing in these images also speaks volumes, but that is up to the viewer to fill in. (Kerry Cardoza)
“A Composition of Memory” is on view at Flxst Contemporary, 2251 South Michigan, Suite 220, through August 29.