Reclaiming Our Time takes a conceptual cue from where Rashaad Newsome left off in his last solo exhibition, Stop Playing In My Face!, 2016. The prior exhibition focused largely on notions of agency and representation especially in relation to cis and trans women feminism.
This new body of work, which features three-dimensional collages as well as a debut series of sculptures in collaboration with the Afro Brazilian design firm Vosay, hones in on various forms of agency through the lens of authorship and authenticity.
Newsome challenges his work with the task of revisiting history, specifically socio-cultural moments of alleged authorship that failed to assign credit to where credit was due. The artist looks at Cubism, a movement that has informed his work for the past decade, and examines its West African aesthetic origins that were often overlooked in historic conversations. In a gesture of “decentering whiteness,” Newsome uses the sculpture and objects that inspired Cubism as the focal point of the new series. Various West African antiquities that currently reside in Western museum collections are boldly represented in both the collages and sculpture.
The anchor work of the exhibition, Through the Looking-Glass, presents a very meta experience where the viewer invited to engage with a collage within a collage. In the background of this work, sits a framed collaged from the previous exhibition being watched by three figures in the foreground of the new collage. Upon closer inspection, the subject in the framed collage sitting in the background is taking a selfie while acknowledging the gaze of the three figures that stand before it in the new collage. The selfie-taking subject is an abstractly-rendered woman in the aesthetic of a video vixen while the three figures that watch are remixed vixens with busts from West African iconography. In this work, Newsome continues to unpack the idea of agency and authorship and how cis and trans women, especially of color, reclaim the gaze of their own bodies.
West African iconography becomes even more tangible in the sculptures included in Reclaiming Our Time. The sculptures are the first objects in a new capsule collection of furniture that Newsome created with Vosay, an Afro Brazilian firm that fabricates all of its furniture from the native Sucupira tree. Each work in Newsome’s collaboration is modeled after Central and West African stools, objects historically reserved for royalty and ceremonies. The antique silhouette of the stool is contemporized with luxury car candy and chameleon paint, as well as a series of Cuban, Rope and Gucci link chains, further expanding on the artist’s signature interplay of adornment and Black culture.
During the exhibition run, Newsome will have a special performance at Park Avenue Armory titled Running, a new immersive performance evoking an abstract portrait of soul created through light and voice. Running is centered on the musicology term for a singer’s improvised embellishment; a “vocal run” is a rapid series of ascending or descending musical notes sung in quick succession. Running is a vocal effect that spans a variety of musical genres from the 19th century to today. Newsome’s dynamic performance features three local New York City vocalists performing an original score composed by the artist, inspired by samples of vocal runs by Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, James Brown, and Kelly Price, among others.