Brendan Fernandes Exhibition

Art in General

poster for Brendan Fernandes Exhibition

This event has ended.

Often drawing on post-colonialist theory, Fernandes’ work investigates the concepts of cultural identity and authenticity. From Hiz Hands explores the dissemination of Western notions of an exotic Africa through the symbolic economy of “African” masks sold on Canal Street and on the streets outside museums in New York (the Whitney and Metropolitan, for example), and their contrasting relationship to the masks on display in the museums. The exhibition examines the objects themselves but also looks at the personal narratives of the mask sellers, drawing on the artist’s own migration from Kenya to Canada in a series of works that create a shared history of identity and origin.

Questioning the value and symbolic meaning of the provenance and determined authenticity of these masks, Fernandes began by interviewing street vendors in various locations and researching the provenance reports of similar African masks at the Metropolitan Museum’s African Artifact archives. While the museum reports give detailed accounts of the object’s trajectory in terms of who bought them and who now owns them, they rarely provide the name of the artist who created the work. Responses from the vendors were equally opaque. The Master of Buli is an exception to this case, and is the focus of the works in this exhibition. An unknown figure named by Western Historians, his work is identified solely through the recognition of a distinctive hand in the carving of the masks. In the artist’s words, “The notion of naming one insists on a hegemonic gesture that insinuates ideas of a colonial history that might possibly still exist.”

Fernandes’ research culminates with a central piece in the exhibition, an audio installation that references both documentary field recording and abstracted Dadaist sound poems. Alluding to the personal experiences of the African immigrant vendors who sell these masks, while looking at the persona and identity of the enigmatic character of the Master of Buli, this piece investigates the dilemmas and codes that language creates through ethnicity and sub-culture. In the windows of the Storefront Gallery three neon versions of African Masks from the Metropolitan hang. The pulsation of their glow mimics Morse code patterns; a non-text language blinking onto the street, as if it is a beacon for visitors. Also visible from the street is large-scale a wall text that graphically plays with such coded language. The words are similar to those referenced in the audio piece, yet the complexity of the origin and comprehension of language is altered through typography.



from December 10, 2010 to March 05, 2011
Feb.8 6pm: Artist Talk: Brendan Fernandes in Conversation with Kalia Brooks

Opening Reception on 2010-12-10 from 18:00 to 20:00

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