A rocket ship, a sentinel, and mirror-faced sculptures are among the artworks composing a deeply personal and vocal exhibition born out of camaraderie and moral support. If it says anything, it’s that injustice benefits from silence and shadows.
On view through October 23 at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Lux et Veritas highlights 21 artists of color who bonded over their singularity and created a support system while attending Yale School of Art between 2000 and 2010. A variety of disciplines, including film, painting and sculpture, are represented. The works are arranged mostly chronologically, based on the year each artist completed his or her graduate studies. They take cover the entire first floor of the museum.
Immediately past the welcoming panel is where we find Sentinel VI by Wangechi Mutu. This tall, tree-looking humanoid with a pronounced rib cage looks as if lifted from a Guillermo del Toro horror movie. The arm branches and the trunk-like body sport the color and texture of clay. The eyes, courtesy of tiger cowry shells, rescue the creature from complete abstraction and lend it a hint of normal resemblance.
Nearby stand two long-haired sculptures with round mirrors for faces. They are by Mutu also. Slightly human and yet completely alien, they are not the type of works we can exactly claim to like. Whether it’s their rough texture or the lack of warmth and color, something about Mirror Faced I and Mirror Faced II feels unapproachable. The Kenyan artist is known for complex compositions that address equally complex topics such as colonialism and cultural identity. A vast combination of elements drives his message, which explains the array of materials (red soil, jawbone, baobab fruit, and hair) employed for the works shown here.
The decade that welcomed Mutu and a new generation of artists to the prestigious Connecticut-based university was characterized by a lack of diversity in the school’s curriculum and faculty. Collegial relationships thus emerged out of a need for feedback, encouragement, and guidance. The defective environment became the perfect impulse for young talent to experiment, express ideas, and correct the observed deficiencies by way of their creations.
Among them is a family of rocket ships by Anna Tsouhlaraakis that confronts the viewers with candid messages in the form of stickers adorning the exterior and interior body of the space shuttles. One declares “we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” while another one reads “defend the sacred.”
The dire future of Earth and potential human migration to other planets was the Native American artist’s inspiration for Rocketship 3/4. Wrapped in aluminum, the silver objects radiate optimism and potential. They seem to say “the possibilities are endless; the sky is the limit” while simultaneously pointing out that some might not be able to escape in sophisticated ships when Earth’s natural resources dry up.
Tsouhlaraakis’s ships are basic hard copies of a child’s imagination held up with foamboard and duct tape. Tinted circular windows lighten up the room and inject color. The interior, furnished with pillows and a cozy fleece, extends a warm invitation to climb the ladder and step inside one of them, whose hatch has been left open.
Further down, a tower made up of 200 found speakers commands understandable attention due to its size and ingenuity. The speakers, neatly piled on top of one another, face outward as if ready to broadcast a message on short notice. Each fits perfectly into the giant box like a piece in a black-and-brown Rubik’s cube. A Willie Colon vinyl record at the base of the structure delivers a touch of sarcasm with its jacket designed after a Wanted poster and featuring phrases like “armed with trombone and considered dangerous.” The piece, titled machu picchu after dark, is by Peruvian artist William Cordova, whose interests include architecture, history, and the roots of abstraction.
The dramatically charged Another Fight for Remembrance, by Titus Kaphar, portrays a black man with his hands raised up and a dark bandanna concealing half of his face. A cloud of white brushstrokes on the subject’s body, as if attacking his presence and identity. A barely there gold halo appears atop the man’s bald head as if accentuating his innocence. His eyes, slightly closed, reflect a sense of resignation to what he believes to be his pre-determined destiny.
This is one in a series of paintings the American artist produced following Time magazine’s request for a cover image to represent the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Sadly, this isn’t the only such painting Kaphar went on to create. The magazine came knocking again following George Floyd’s tragic murder.
The show – which is titled after Yale University’s credo “Light and Truth” – broaches topics that art institutions began addressing since the global conversation on diversity, gender parity, and inclusion grew so loud it left them no choice. To that point, Lux et Veritas acknowledges these artists’ roles in airing shortfalls present during their enrollment. It credits them with making much ado about plenty, for the path to curing unfairness can never have too much transparency and exposure.
Lux et Veritas runs through October 23 at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays. Admission: $12, $8 seniors and military, $5 students (with valid ID). Call 954-525-5500 or visit nsuartmuseum.org.