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Fables at the ICA

Christopher Myers
Christopher Myers en costume.

One of the highlights at the ICA opening was Christopher Myers en costume. Here’s a shot of him.

Myers is one of four artists in Fables, a mini show curated by the 2005-2006 Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow Naomi Beckwith for the Project Room in the ICA. Beckwith selected the artists–all of whom can be labeled artists of color–because they rewrite history (personal or not) with their work.

Outside of my quibble that all artists rewrite history in some sense, I loved this little show. Myers was one of the reasons. His display of masked costumes for the ugliest woman in the world (yes, she did exist and her name is Julia Pastrana)is notable for its mix of wood and clothing display carousels, for the fabulous costumes that each channel some ethnic fantasy of multiple fabrics and ornaments, and for the creepiness of masks of this sort. They immediately made me think these were not that different from Ku Klux Klan masks, hiding identity and suggesting something to fear beneath. But in the case of Pastrana, it’s the way she looks, not the way she thinks, that needs to be hidden from society. She’s far more preferable.

Christopher Myers
Seven Veils for Julia Pastrana, Ugliest Woman in the World, b. Mexico 1834, d. Moscow 1860, 2006, handcarved and stained poplar wood, fabric, hair, sunglasses, flag, jewlry, leather cowrie shells and keys; veils 6 x 8 inches each, by Christopher Myers

I also like how some of the costumes on this upscale, old-money clothes rack are made of the meanest of materials, and turn something that’s not so beautiful into something exotic and fabulous.

At the opening, Myers talked a little about putting himself in the place of someone so homely that she needed to hide herself–a tall order for a handsome, pleasant man who must be pretty secure in himself to have the guts to make his own costume and then wear it.

Kanishka Raja
Kanishka Raja’s public bedroom, Dissolution of the Prepublic (version 2), 2005, oil and mixed media on canvas over wood panels, each 80 x 176 inches

Also in the show, Wanda Raimundi Ortiz recreated herself as a juicy super-hero woman becoming part of the tropical landscape of Puerto Rico, her ancestral home; Kanishka Raja’s panoramic deserted bedroom and airport scene remind me of some of Kerry James Marshall’s panoramic interiors, but here the spaces are infinite, not intimate, and the message is man without a country; and Kara Walker’s projected cut-outs of a suggestive interaction between a black woman and a white man takes place behind blinds that let you see more–or less. The rest is left to the imagination and in mine, the woman (or Walker’s alter-ego) walks off with the crown, the power, the pot of food, while he’s left holding his sceptre.

By the way, if you missed it, Roberta’s piece on the first-floor exhibit at the ICA, John Armleder‘s About Nothing, it’s here, along with some brief discussions of the other exhibits.

For more images of the ICA opening and this exhibit, go here to my Flickr set.