Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rajko Radovanovic at Barrister's Gallery, Tameka Norris and Stephen Collier at Good Children Gallery

Identity is a recurring, yet often challenging, theme of conceptual art. At Good Children, New Haven-based Mississippi native Tameka Norris expresses her identification with the coastal folks who got flooded by hurricane Katrina in videos and collages depicting her image superimposed on destroyed homes, or nearly drowning in floodwater, and the net effect can be dramatic if didactic. But Stephen Collier's digital collages meld portraiture with mythic symbols that scramble our usual notions of identity in works that reflect the more enigmatic side of a genre that often seems to veer between preachy and opaque. At Barrister's Gallery, Serbo-Croatian New Orleans artist Rajko Radovanovic's digital prints reflect the didactic side of the equation. Back in 2008 he created a text mural in New Marigny that read: "A PRECONDITION TO DOING VIOLENCE TO ANY GROUP OF PEOPLE IS TO MAKE THEM LESS THAN HUMAN." A maxim used to explain the psychological basis for ethnic cleansing of the sort that took place in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and elsewhere, this looked profound if a little incongruous on a scruffy 8th Ward street corner, and perhaps a tad simplistic. His digital self-portraits at Barrister's are all curiously similar in appearance and each bears a slogan like, "This is the only IMMIGRANT you can trust," with terms such as HOMOSEXUAL or MUSLIM substituted for IMMIGRANT in each iteration, illustrating the point that beneath the superficial labels we are all much the same. They seemed too simplistic and repetitious, but then the shooting rampage in Tucson suddenly underscored his message. In recent years, increased threats and actual acts of violence have been directed at people because of their beliefs or identity, as demagogues tried to characterize anyone who disagreed with them as subhuman aliens out to destroy America. In a media environment saturated with crosshairs and incendiary rhetoric, violence should come as no surprise. Radovanovic's graphics at Barrister's still strike me as too repetitious, but in light of recent events even simplistic messages about the danger of dehumanizing people can assume new relevance. ~Bookhardt

Rajko Radovanovic: THE FUTILITY OF IDENTITY, Through Feb. 5
Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-2506;
Prospect.1.5: Tameka Norris and Stephen Collier: RECENT WORK, Through Feb. 6, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427;