Entering “LOVE: Still Not the Lesser,” the breathtaking exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, one encounters a quote by author James Baldwin. It is concise, poetic, and perfectly defines the show. This collection of work from a dozen international artists is about love, in its many manifestations and forms. Straight love, queer love, family love, love of others and love of the self—sometimes several of these in a single image. All the things love entails are contained within the show—adoration, sensuality, loyalty and regard, and so much more.
Particularly powerful are the images by Mari Katayama, who had both of her legs amputated at the age of nine due to a congenital condition. Katayama has turned her body into art, celebrating what she does not see as a disability, but as something beautiful to be valued, venerated and adorned. The seven enormous images of her limbs replete with glitter, along the length of a wall, make Katayama’s point—love thyself, whether in spite of or because of who you are.
The always poignant Jess Dugan shows a group of portraits from their “Family Pictures” series. Jess, a non-binary recent parent engages with their baby, their partner, their mother and their mother’s partner. The unequivocal statement here is that family means love, in whatever way it appears, and should thus be honored. Tom Merilion also reaches into family for his touching narrative of love, interspersing some of his late mother’s art with images of his aging father to portray devotion and the pain of loss in a family.
Perhaps the most striking body of work is that of Moroccan artist Mous Lamrabat. His large-scale prints “Where Is the Love #2” and “Warning (Explicit Beauty)” are both beautiful and affecting. In a side project space, with circulated air rippling their colorful faces, Lamrabat has printed portraits on flags, embellished with signs, symbols and text regarding love and blended cultures, titled “Peace Room.”
Scottish artist Alicia Bruce presents images from her series “I Burn But I Am Not Consumed,” in which we see yet another kind of love—love of ancestral lands as inhabitants battle the invasion of commercial development. There are video works by Chinese artist Yuge Zhou in which a couple mirrors one another in two seasons to demonstrate the concept of “Yuan,” and Kierah KIKI King, whose dance performance video portrays their self-sensuality and pleasure.
Jorian Charlton affectionately captures her peers from the Caribbean diaspora, and a mixed-media piece by Senegalese American artist Modou Dieng Yacine asks “Let Me Know How You Feel’N Me.” And Austrian Alia Ali repeats the Arabic word for love as a pattern over the image of a wrapped figure. Salma Abedin Prithi from Bangladesh shows an extensive series of images with handwritten personal love stories, and Jorge Ariel Escobar presents a pair of tender images in which he himself stars. Love, as they say, makes the world go around—no matter what form it takes.
“Love: Still Not The Lesser” is at Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan, through December 22.