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By Dario Mohr
Today, many artists and spectators are used to viewing artwork in a white-walled space with limited sensory, environmental input. Although seeing art in a white vacuum is a useful method for experiencing art, many nations have creators who traditionally and currently present their work in ways that are woven into everyday life and culture. This can be seen in the male initiation ritual masks created and worn for centuries in masquerade performances in Papua New Guinea, as well as in the figurehead sculptures crowning the front of boats for annual races that still take place today in Nigeria. For the 2nd Annual AnkhLave Garden Project Fellowship, six Queens-based, female artists of color with immigration journeys to the US had the unique challenge of creating and displaying their work in a natural environment at the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing, NY. This resulted in a public art show that ran through summer 2020. Now, months later, they come together again, displaying relics from the initial exhibit along with new and continued explorations that are in conversation with the original public works. This exhibition, located in QBG’s indoor gallery, is called “On the Inside Looking Out.”
Though human-made objects can serve many purposes in the contemporary art realm, there is a sense of wonder that an audience member can experience by exploring a natural space and discovering a work of art, with the senses activated. Summer 2020 was the time of the COVID-19 lockdown, but as the city began to open up and people developed the courage to venture outdoors again, they found themselves embracing what they had been missing.
Spectators had the opportunity to smell the flowers near Asano Agarie-Gomez’s “Rosie” piece adjacent to the rose garden. They could feel the texture of tree bark from the crabapple tree cradling Mariana Tonini-Vilas Boas’s painting “Marielle Franco Presente!”. Others may have felt the sensation of warm sunlight on their skin, lying underneath Cecilia Andre’s “Rainbow Squared.” This exhibit was a rare opportunity to witness the ephemerality of Natali Bravo-Barbee’s “Femicide Florals,” which weathered and visually transformed throughout the summer months within the green backdrop of its surroundings. Audience members could hear the sound of water flowing every so often from the water system that Kayo Shido oriented her “Dry Garden'' piece next to. There was also the opportunity to feel a sense of childlike wonder, exploring the stomping grounds of the children’s summer camp area and discovering Christine Sloan Stoddard’s “Rabbit’s Storytelling Throne.” Now, after having returning to their personal studios, they've had time to reflect on the experience and present work, embodying the evolution their work has taken on since their public art was erected.
The AnkhLave Garden Project isn’t only concerned with showing art by contemporary BIPOC, but also to expand the contemporary art conversation to include alternative methods and spaces for artists to create and present work in. The Queens Botanical Garden is an ideal location for the AnkhLave Garden Project, as it is situated in a neighborhood predominantly populated by BIPOC. Because BIPOC in the U.S. are on average less likely to visit a museum than their European counterparts, we hope to inspire a more inclusive landscape that will continue to bring diverse voices into the conversation by bringing contemporary art to their neighborhoods and communities, as well as encouraging them to see BIPOC in museums and gallery spaces.
The annual AnkhLave Garden Project is a fellowship where six Queens-based Black, Indigenous and People of Color (Artists) create installations in a natural community space as an alternative studio and exhibition space. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, our 2020 AnkhLave Garden Project was the AnkhLave Arts Alliance’s most successful show yet, being featured in NYC GO, Time Out, Art in New York City, The Daily Sun, AM NY, Queens Daily Eagle, among others with a review from New York Latin Culture Magazine and a shout-out from MoMA PS1. This show became one of the only exhibitions available to the public through quarantine. In order to bring it to an even wider audience, we produced the documentary titled "Artists Unmasked," featuring candid interviews about the six AnkhLave Garden Project Fellows’ quarantine experiences, installation footage, and artist talks following its completion. This AnkhLave Arts Alliance, Inc. produced documentary ended up making it into the Quarantine Films category in the 2020 Astoria Film Festival.
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