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Nourish, a deep dive into the nuances of sustenance and all its forms at the Delaware Contemporary

Susan Isaacs reviews three of the 10 installations that make up Nourish, an exploration of the sustenance that we all need at the Delaware Contemporary. The works and installation Isaacs focuses on offer up critiques of the role of women, in More Than a Woman, Adrian L. Burrell’s film and installation titled The Saints in Kongo Time, and the fantastical work of Miami based artists Federico Uribe. Each offers a different context for nourishment: the female body, the family and its history and the need to repair the plant. 


The Delaware Contemporary (DC) has organized their winter/spring exhibitions in seven different galleries under the umbrella of Nourish, with a wide variety of programs that are intended to extend our understanding of the topic.  

My focus here will be on three of the exhibitions, including The Saints Step in Kongo Time (2023), by Adrian L. Burrell, More Than a Woman?, a three person show including Orly Cogan, Lauren Galban, and  Johanna Goodman, and Federico Uribe, Plastic Reef

A gallery space with a wood bench facing towards a screen with a river scene. To the right is a blue wall with a white o and flat horizontal line above, in the circle is a blue face.
Adrian L. Burrell, Installation view: The Saints Step in Kongo Time, 2022, photography for the Delaware Contemporary by Danielle Vennard

Curated by Tiffany Barber, the Delaware Contemporary Curator-in-Residence, The Saints Step in Kongo Time (2023), by Adrian L. Burrell, known for his narrative examinations of the Black diaspora, is a portrait of the Burrell family matriarch, Threather Lewis, who survived the harshness and legacy of Louisiana’s enslavement of Black individuals to build, sustain, and nourish a large family in California. The installation of this profound film, in a darkened room, includes a cast of a face akin to a  death mask, and an autobiographical statement below it. The film combines historical images, family history, interviews, video, and archival materials to tell the story of Lewis, who was born in Linden, LA, in 1927. Burrell’s montage, according to Tiffany Barber “examines the extractive, unjust relationship between capitalism and Blackness as well as how gratuitous violence—from state-sanctioned systems of containment to intramural conflict—circumscribes Black life.” Burrell’s grandmother joined the Great Migration to escape the Jim Crow South and settled in Oakland, California. She gave birth to 16 children, and created a legacy for hundreds of descendants.  

Gallery space with multicolored pyramids of cloth in cylinders, spheres, and rounded pancakes. The walls feature canvases.
Installation view: In More Than a Woman?, photography for the Delaware Contemporary by Danielle Vennard

In More Than a Woman?, a three person show featuring Orly Cogan, Lauren Galban, and Johanna Goodman, all the artists utilize textiles and collage to examine the cultural constructs that shape and define women’s roles in the West, especially as they relate to the female body. This exhibit presents disparate approaches to materials to address the female form. While the exhibition explores this construct as a whole, each artist shows that female nourishment can arise in many contrasting disparate ways. Cogan uses embroidery and applique on found fabrics with crochet elements in her piece “Life Force.” The work depicts in vignettes a fetus, a self-breast exam, and a mother carrying a baby. Cogan, who uses and elevates the materials and techniques that historically were associated only with women and thus demeaned, sets out to examine the roles of women and debunk feminine stereotypes. More abstractly, Galban addresses body images in forms made of knit fabric packed with sand and polyfill. In “Slump and Sag,” for instance, her abstract elements reference breasts and bellies pulled by the weight of gravity. In Galban’s work, women-identifying bodies are often both physiologically and psychologically pulled down, stretched, and overextended, while also nourishing. In contrast to Cogan and Galban, Goodman, a successful illustrator, works in two dimensions. In her project, The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings, a collection of computer created collages printed digitally, she uses photographs available in the public domain and her own images to examine the roles of women and how women are perceived. In “Plate 240,” Goodman links an angry and powerful figure of an ancient classical sculpture with an erupting volcano. The central composition with its vertical orientation emphasized by the totemic form of the body, suggests a goddess to nourish and empower all women. 

A glorious symphony of color from recycled plastics creates a plastic reef filled with aquatic life in a turquoise painted gallery space.
Federico Uribe, Plastic Reef, detail, 2023, Site specific, plastic, photography for the Delaware Contemporary by Danielle Vennard

Finally, Plastic Reef, by Miami-based artist Federico Uribe, inspired by the overwhelming amount of plastic found on the beaches of Miami, draws attention to the beauty found in nature. The Delaware Contemporary included this installation as a way to focus awareness on nourishing the planet.  Uribe repurposes plastic objects, employed in everyday life, to create an underworld that is magical and fantastic. He compiles and groups these items into reefs and plants, fish, and other sea life forms.  The result is an installation that is terrific fun and quite beautiful. A larger version of this work was on view in the 2019 Venice Biennale. No doubt the DC wanted to make a statement addressing the environment, as this is important to the community surrounding the DC. Just across the street from the Christina Riverfront, was once an industrial site and very polluted. Many people committed to changing these conditions, which shows how individuals working together can make a difference to protect and nourish the environment.  

The Delaware Contemporary is only 30 minutes from downtown Philadelphia.  Take the time and go see Nourish. You will be edified.