Thinking through the exhibition title of Kushala Vora and Adia Sykes’ collaboration at Engage Projects is an interesting endeavor, for “Something from Something” tells us as viewers that knowledge, art, creation, inspiration, love—really anything you can think of—has a place of origin. On the surface such a pronouncement isn’t shocking; it feels or rather it should feel matter of fact: artists, curators, the art world as a whole, have been informed by multivalent histories of creation. Yet, in the Western art world, art markets and art schools, the myth of the lone genius from nowhere, borne only of themself insistently persists. This is a story codified within global capitalism, and the systems of carceral slavery, white supremacy, ableism and gender-based violence capitalism depends upon. Why? Genius: a name, a brand, it SELLS.
The lineage of the solitary artist haunts even the most progressive of spaces because every person involved with a show, from staff to preparators to the artists themselves, are trying to survive. It’s this urgency, the dread when one is forced to choose between rent, food and medicine, that make Vora and Sykes’ collaboration not only refreshing but brave. The pieces in the gallery space are not defined through any linear path. Rather, your experience with their work is mediated by the duo’s creative and curatorial sojourns through memory and kinship; the stops, starts and loops that are generated through creating with another. This is the meaning of partnership: it’s not for you, it’s not for me, it’s for us.
I use “us” in the most expansive of senses as viewers are treated as equal participants in Vora and Sykes’ endeavor. Upon entering the exhibition space, you’re meant to wander, explore, and experience the work in all its surprising harmonies and frictions. Ceramic forms, reminiscent of the new life and blooming rot of beach shore waves, grow in crevasses and corners. Shards of ceramic merge together in shivery relief; while each fragment alone is reminiscent of shell shards or polished shale, taken together natural forms emerge. Look out and up, cloth hangs in billows like hill slopes molded by winds. Green, brown, and bone-colored hues mingle within the ceramic’s glazes. Pops of vibrant colored pencil reveal the blooms of exquisite flowers, their petals caught by unseen breezes. The relationship between each piece is not explicitly stated, nor is much available by way of exhibition show notes, yet it is these absences, these boundaries that provide an expansive sense of possibility. There’s freedom in exploring, in noticing, in delighting in the secrets and surprises of Vora and Sykes’ work.
The transformation of the gallery’s interior into a place of natural beauty, a site new and open, is a nod to the duo’s own “canopied memories of time-honored trees that served as hubs for community organizing, solitude, mischief, and creativity in their youth.” It is an effect that allows for each viewer to not only see the trees, but the yards, the sidewalk cracks, the flowers, and fields of their own pasts. You’re rendered both small and large under Vora and Sykes’ shared hand: the cloth of the ceramic trees shields you, and veins of color in each piece of ceramic make cosmos unto themselves. In “Something,” Vora and Sykes’ not only give us a communal gallery experience but offer a new way to see.
Kushala Vora and Adia Sykes “Something from Something” at Engage Projects, 864 North Ashland, on view through August 25.