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"Repossession" at Lehmann Maupin

By Lara Atallah


A Tim Rollins and K.O.S. installation—Darkwater III (After W.E.B. Du Bois), 2013—sets the tone of this show. Pages of the titular author’s essays are mounted on twelve panels hung side by side, partially obstructed by gold acrylic and “furnace black” watercolor. Indeed, the work looks as though it were recovered from a fire. One of panels reads “Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody’s slavery.” This statement, written in 1920, could not be more apropos now, where black men and women are still part of a ruthless cycle that subjugates and victimizes.


Just past these pieces is Kader Attia’s collage series “Modern Architecture Genealogy,” 2014. It reminds us that colonization boils down to a twisted rewrite of the Pygmalion and Narcissus myths. Here, the artist offers up representations of conquered, non-Western bodies who are expected to become mirror images of their rulers in order to be deemed “civilized.” The architecture here seems like a prison for fragmented, vulnerable identities. Elsewhere, the indefatigable Mickalene Thomas’s multichannel video Angelitos Negros (Black Little Angels), 2016, comments on femininity and sexuality by revisiting Eartha Kitt’s performance of Antonio Machín’s song of the same name. The video—Pop, yet transcendent—is a message of empowerment for women forgotten by the system.


At a time when levels of xenophobia are painting a racial landscape that echoes the first half of the twentieth century—or, frighteningly, even earlier—exhibitions like this one are vital and necessary. “Repossession” asks us to fight against a hatred that’s become far too normalized.