Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ehlers at McKenna / False Flags at Gallery X

One of the more intriguing recent developments in this city's evolution is Central City's recent emergence as an arts district as new spaces like Gallery X and the Creative Alliance of New Orleans' Myrtle Banks Building Gallery expand the offerings on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. Meanwhile, some edgy works by Danish-Trinidadian artist Jeannette Ehlers at the nearby McKenna Museum of African-American Art on Carondelet St. lend a palpable sense of critical mass to the mix. As a Creole native of Denmark, Ehlers was shocked when she learned that her Nordic homeland had a slave-based colonial past. The Danish West Indies' fraught history seemed largely whitewashed out of existence after becoming the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917, and the shock of that discovery caused Ehlers to create performances, videos and art objects related to its semi-secret history. Perhaps the most lyrical video, Black Magic in the White House, above, is set in the Danish prime minister's residence and harks to it and the colonial governor's mansion's Afro-Caribbean back story expressed via a dancing spirit's mysterious candles and voodoo symbols. Whip It Good is a darkly visceral and unsettling look at the disciplinary role played by whips in colonial slave-based societies, as her spectral figure literally lashes out like an avenging voodoo spirit--an experience she invites viewers to share in her eponymous performances. Although widely exhibited in Europe, this Raise exhibit curated by Taylor Le Melle and Michael K. Wilson is Ehler's first full fledged U.S. museum show, and New Orleans' deep roots in the Caribbean make this city a natural fit.

More works dealing with nations and migrations appear in Gallery X's visually sparse yet complex and intellectually weighty False Flags exhibition curated by Noah Simbalist and featuring works like Ruta Sela and Maayan Amir's Flags of Convenience video exploring the tragic history of big companies obtaining charters from tiny nations to enable operating outside the law. Rona Yefman's video, 2 Flags, The last battle of the Stripes and the Hoods, above, employs flags as symbols of identity metamorphosed into a realm of rival street gangs on search and destroy missions in which rallying around the flag becomes a collective blood sport. Tania Bruguera's activist conceptual project, The Francis Effect, is visually only barely there yet is probably the most weighty of all--a simple banner and a petition to Pope Francis requesting that Vatican citizenship be extended to all immigrants everywhere--a gesture that would grant them vital legal status. The Pope is reportedly considering it. ~ Bookhardt / Raise: Mixed Media by Jeannette Ehlers, Through July 16th, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432; False Flags: International Mixed Media Group Exhibition, Through May 29, Gallery X, 1612 O.C. Haley Blvd., 252-0136. To sign Tania Bruguera's petition to Pope Francis, Click Here.