CUE Art Foundation is pleased to present Soft is Strong, a solo exhibition by Miatta Kawinzi, curated and mentored by Ronny Quevedo. Kawinzi employs multimedia installation, video, and prints to consider conditions of fragmentation, multiplicity, and softness within the African diaspora as sites for belonging, possibility, and regeneration. Born in the Southern United States to a Liberian mother and Kenyan father, the New York-based artist’s work explores cultural hybridity, motifs of doubling, and linguistic experimentation in conversation with Black feminist literary traditions, uplifting a poetics of liberation that simultaneously holds space for loss while imagining paths towards reparation and renewal. This is the artist’s first institutional solo show in New York.
In the main gallery is a large-scale installation of Kawinzi’s experimental film, She gather me, titled after a line from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. The film uses analog and digital footage recorded in Detroit, Johannesburg, New York City, Santo Domingo, and Tulsa combined with concrete poetry and an original electronic scoreto meditate on both existing and imagined internal and external landscapes of the African diaspora. The immersive environment includes a silver mylar-covered floor, blue lights, and wooden rocking chairs. A series of sculptural works hung across the gallery walls weave together dark blue cotton threads with cowrie shells, historical signifiers of value in both East and West Africa. Elsewhere, Kawinzi’s two-channel video installation, A(f)mrka, situates an experimental dialogue across two CRT television monitors in which fragments of text on a blue background draw attention to the intersections between imaginings of “Afrka” and “Amrka.” For the soundtrack, the artist riffs off of the Liberian and Black American national anthems, alluding to their entanglement. Across the front wall and hallway, Kawinzi has installed colorful Kente cloth-inspired original wallpaper on which a photographic print, The fragrance of our blooming, is installed. This image is part of a series of black and white photographs displayed throughout the gallery that depict the artist’s unanchored arms holding sunflowers against white backgrounds, gestures that reference the poet Nikki Giovanni’s musings on the ways in which flowers speak to the dualities of “mourning and rejoicing.”
The color blue echoes throughout the exhibition, evoking the West African Mami Wata, the Black American blues tradition, and waterways, as well as serving to reclaim the color from its contemporary connotations of policing by inserting it into a context of softness and possibility. In the exhibition catalogue, Adeola Olakiitan writes: “At a time of ongoing brutality against Black lives worldwide, staying soft is bound to the necessity of continued demands for the liberation of the oppressed. Through the exhibition’s spatial poetics, the viewer is reminded that staying soft is an oppositional force to the negative constructions of vulnerability as a sign of weakness. To be soft, to deliberately instill softness, offers a spot of respite and alternative ways of survival, reckoning, and healing.”
Miatta Kawinzi (she/her/they/them) is a Kenyan-Liberian-American multidisciplinary artist, writer, and educator raised in Nashville, TN, and Louisville, KY, and based in NYC. She received an MFA in Studio Art from Hunter College and a BA in Interdisciplinary Art & Cultural Theory from Hampshire College. Her work has been presented at the Studio Museum in Harlem, MoMA PopRally, Red Bull Arts Detroit, BRIC, Maysles Cinema, and the Museum of the Moving Image, among other spaces. She has been awarded artist residencies in spaces including the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (Tulsa, OK), POV Spark in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture (NYC, DC, and Venice, Italy), Red Bull Arts Detroit (Detroit, MI), the Cité internationale des arts (Paris, France, with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council), Beta-Local (San Juan, Puerto Rico), the Bemis Center (Omaha, NE), and the Bag Factory (Johannesburg, South Africa). Kawinzi has been awarded a 2021-22 Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, the 2019 Bemis Center Alumni Award, and the 2018 Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant administered by Queer|Art. She has taught art at Hampshire College and the University of Richmond and worked as a museum, youth, and community arts educator throughout NYC.
Ronny Quevedo (b. 1981, Guayaquil, Ecuador) works in a variety of mediums including sculpture and drawing. He received his MFA from Yale University (2011) and BFA from Cooper Union (2003). Quevedo’s work has been exhibited at the Denver Art Museum (2021), the Albright Knox Gallery (2021), Foxy Productions (2021), Upfor Gallery (2019), James Fuentes Gallery (2019), the Whitney Museum of American Art (2018), Socrates Sculpture Park (2017), and the Queens Museum (2017). Solo presentations include Silueta, Rubber Factory (2019); Field of Play, Open Source Gallery (2019); and no hay medio tiempo / there is no halftime, Queens Museum (2017). Group exhibitions include ACE: Art on Sports, Promise, and Selfhood, University Art Museum at Albany (2019); Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art at the Whitney Museum (2018); and the traveling exhibition Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly (2017-19). His work has been reviewed in Artforum and Hyperallergic, and is highlighted in Latinx Art: Artists, Markets, Politics by Arlene Davila (2020). His work is held in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Denver Art Museum, and other world-renowned cultural institutions. Quevedo is a recipient of a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, Queens Museum/Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, and A Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art.