Cape Town

13 September - 7 October 2017
Lyle Ashton Harris
Black Power

STEVENSON is pleased to present Black Power, an immersive video installation by Lyle Ashton Harris.

Taking its title from the seminal 1954 essay by African-American author and cultural critic Richard Wright, the installation juxtaposes two of the artist’s video works: Untitled (Predawn, Osu, Accra, 2010), 2017, a meditative single-channel work, and Black Power, 2010, a three-channel work depicting physical training at an outdoor neighbourhood gym in Accra. The gym was frequented by a former partner - also featured in the video - who facilitated the artist’s entry into this intimate milieu otherwise accessible only to locals.

Untitled (Predawn, Osu, Accra, 2010) was shot while Harris lived in the district of Osu, the epicentre of cultural activity in Accra. In the early morning hours the artist recorded an exterior scene through the security bars of a window, capturing in real-time the gradual emergence of predawn light amidst intermittent rain showers, muffled thunderclaps and the irregular green flickering of a nearby security floodlight. The quiescent, stationary image of a verdant urban garden is seen throughout; devoid of human presence, it evokes a sense of suspense, of something about to happen.

This serves as a backdrop to Black Power, which is shown across three video monitors in the installation’s foreground. In each frame the amateur bodybuilders engage in unselfconsciously performative rituals, individually intent on achieving some embodiment of a physical ideal through repetitive training. Refusing to occlude his own investment in the erotic capacity of the black male form, the artist’s lens critically engages with the complex dynamics of desire and homosocial interaction expressed through the individuals’ rhythmic movements and virile bearing. The work also comments on cultural hybridity, the bodybuilders’ focused exertions becoming corporeal evidence of the construction of transnational masculinities.

As a seductive montage of sensibilities both hypermasculine and contemplative, public and private, each of the installation’s distinct works implicates viewers in a reflexive engagement of the relation between subjectivity and witnessing. Presented together, they offer a subtle yet potent interrogation of the ethnographic gaze and the continuing legacy of colonialism behind the contemporary forces of global (in)security.

Lyle Ashton Harris is a multidisciplinary American artist known for his explorations of identity, sexuality and various cultural histories. Harris works in media including photography, video and installation. Born in the Bronx (1965) and raised in New York City and Dar Es Salaam by his South African father and American mother, Harris now lives and works in New York City. He has exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among other institutions, as well as international biennials (Busan, 2008; Venice, 2007; Seville, 2006; Gwangju, 2000). His work is represented in the permanent collections of major museums, most recently the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2014 Harris joined the Board of Trustees of the American Academy in Rome and was the recipient of the David C Driskell Prize awarded by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. In 2016 he was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and was appointed a trustee of the Tiffany Foundation. Having studied at Wesleyan University, the California Institute of the Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, Harris is currently an associate professor of Art and Art Education at New York University.

The exhibition opens on Wednesday 13 September, 6 to 8pm, in the presence of the artist.

Lyle Ashton Harris and Zanele Muholi will talk about their exhibitions on Saturday 16 September from 11am. All are welcome.