Esau McGhee’s sculptural assemblages are some of the first works you encounter in “Unseen Things Are Still There,” a group exhibition curated by Joanne Aono at the Riverside Arts Center. McGhee’s works, made up of collaged layers of screenprints and ink on paper centered in irregularly-shaped frames, cleverly embody this title. Not only are there layers of composition inaccessible to the viewer, the materiality itself is not easily classifiable. The artist likes it that way, likening these abstracted compositions—part painting, part sculpture, part graffiti, all stemming from McGhee’s background in photography—to portraits. It is impossible to look at a person and understand at a glance that person’s depth, complexity—so it is with these pieces.
Alexandra Antoine’s work, from the series “I Followed The Drinking Gourd…,” also contains layers of meaning and history. Each work starts with a hand-drawn pattern of a food from the African diaspora, staples that Antoine grew up eating: hibiscus, okra, black-eyed peas. She adds black-and-white photocopies of personal photos, hand-sewing the name of each plant onto the paper using shiny sequins. The results are zine-like in aesthetic, with poems honoring the foods and the traditions of the artist’s Haitian culture.
Aono’s curatorial vision stems from “Stars and Dandelions,” a poem by Misuzu Kaneko, a beloved Japanese children’s poet who committed suicide as she was about to lose custody of her child to her abusive husband. Kate Ingold pays homage to the poet with the work “Five Geese, for Misuzu Kaneko,” small, broken porcelain figures covered in dark felt. Kaneko’s poem starts: “Deep in the blue sky,/like pebbles at the bottom of the sea,/lie the stars unseen in daylight.” In the back room of the gallery, Chicago painter Elsa Muñoz interprets these lines literally, with three shimmering oil paintings of a bright light breaking through an otherwise dark background. The lights have rays and strands radiating away from them, it’s unclear if the source is fireworks or streetlights; In “Apparation 2, Pushing Aside the Darkness as we Move,” the light seems to be the sun, the brightest star of all. What’s important is their power to break through the dark atmosphere, offering a glimmer of hope as winter comes to an end.
JB Daniel’s work, from the ongoing project “Help each other,” also strikes a note of hopefulness. Daniel began the project earlier in the pandemic, by placing yard signs that read “Help each other” throughout the city. The exhibition catalog shows one installed outside Cook County Jail, another sits next to a Love Fridge. Eventually the artist printed additional signs reading “Please take one”—both are installed outside in the gallery’s sculpture garden. Viewers are welcome to take a sign from the installation, or can purchase their own pack, helping to spread this simple reminder to be neighborly, to encourage the often unseen acts of kindness that the world could always use more of. (Kerry Cardoza)
“Unseen Things Are Still There” is on view at Riverside Arts Center, 32 East Quincy Street, Riverside, through April 9.