Future – Past – Imperfect
Ayana V Jackson
Cape Town I 4 Feb to 14 Mar 2016
Gallery MOMO Cape Town is pleased to announce Future – Past – Imperfect, a selection of new and earlier works by renowned visual artist, Ayana V. Jackson. Born and raised in New Jersey USA, Jackson lives and works between New York, Paris and Johannesburg. After moving her practice to South Africa in 2007, she has participated in a series of residencies with Gallery MOMO. This will mark her first show in Cape Town and her 3rd solo exhibition in South Africa.
According to a 2015 interview conducted in Berlin with Angela Conner of Fierce Latitudes, Jackson’s work “examines the complexities of photographic representation and the role of the camera in constructing identity. Using reportage, performance and studio-based portraiture, Jackson’s practice can be seen as a map of the ethical considerations and relationships involved between the photographer, subject and viewer”. Her work also considers the various ways mass distribution of photographic media (historically and in the present) has objectified “the body”, constructed identity and affected interpersonal as well as political relations.
Jackson made the shift from a reportage/documentary practice to performance and self-portraiture in 2009 with the series Leapfrog (a bit of the other) Grand Matron Army. In Future – Past – Imperfect, Jackson presents new works in dialogue with older series. A new work, Dear Sarah (2015) was created in homage to Sarah Forbes Bonnetta, a 19th Century Nigerian woman who was raised as Queen Victoria’s god-daughter in mid 19th Century England. Bonetta, born in 1843, was given to the Queen as a gift “from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites”. In this series once regarded inanimate objects become ‘animated’.
As seen in her 2011 and 2013 series, Archival Impulse and Poverty Pornography, the history of photography, as well as the role of the camera as a social tool is a key area of interest for Jackson.
In the art work, To Kill or Allow to Live, Jackson elevates an idea from seminal 19th century European photographers Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey. Both photographers are known for developing techniques to capture people, objects, and animals in motion. The resulting images break down instances in the action that are otherwise imperceivable to the human eye. Blindfolded and seen to be dodging an unknown object or presence, Jackson transforms herself into one of their subjects as a way to illustrate what can be seen as the act of resistance as well as submission.
“After spending so much time digging in photographic archives looking at the multitude of ways the non-European body has been ‘framed’ –literally and figuratively- I found myself feeling emotionally distressed. It was like trying to struggle with quicksand. The combination of discussing and defending recent work, and my personal relationship with my subject matter, set against the backdrop of the current round of public lynching of black bodies in my home country … it was unbearable. I decided that I needed movement, air, weightlessness, and light. So I decided to create a series of movement studies set in the 19th century. It was my way of shifting something in the past as a way to affect the present and the future (even if only psychologically). I wanted to see what healing would happen if I abandoned the act of deconstruction in favour of reconstruction” (Jackson, 2016).
Among the new works in Future – Past – Imperfect, Jackson includes a series in progress titled The Becoming Subject. These portraits can be seen in dialogue with previous works looking at the Black Middle Class in the 19th Century, specifically her 2013 works Does the Brown Paper Bag test really exist/Will my Father be Proud, Prototype/Phenotypeand even Leapfrog’s, The Grand Matron created in 2009.
According to Jackson, the title Future – Past – Imperfect combines two language tenses, Past Imperfect, which describes actions in the past that occurred repeatedly, and the Future Perfect, which describes an action that will be finished or ‘perfected’ in the future. Jackson elaborates, “When I look at recent works it has become evident that for very personal, as well as political reasons, I am interacting with an extremely flawed past as a means for constructing a more perfect future”.