Thursday, February 15, 2007
Zoë Charlton and iona rozeal brown: Artist to Artist at Hirshhorn
Zoë Charlton and iona rozeal brown intimately reveal themselves and remind us to be aware of imitating social constructions
by Amy Misurelli-Sorensen
There is no line upon entering The Hirshhorn Museum today, no “headliner” draws only a small crowd, and Ryan Hill, manager of interpretive studies at the Hirshhorn, invites the audience to fill the first few rows of seats nearest the stage. Ryan Hill introduces Zoë Charlton and iona rozeal brown, two local women artists, and they begin a casual discussion on their work and the world.
Iona brown’s paintings are evocative of 17th and18th century Japanese woodcuts and rely on a multitude of resources from eastern and western cultures. She is constructing a “Warrior Aesthetic” where Samurais and Hip-Hop unite. Brown’s dual career as an artist and a D.J. inspires a body of work that represents Hip-Hop’s influences on the youth of Japanese culture. She captures Japanese youth mimicking the hip-hop scene in America through costume in black face, afros, baggy jeans, drawers, grills, logos, and attitudes. One painting depicts a teenage Asian girl in corn rolls; her smile reveals a grill and the audience are faced with a beautiful and pleasurable image of conflicting identities. Brown questions the history of the black face, the Yellow Negro, Warriors, trends, stereotypes in the media, and identity theft.
Charlton’s work explores similar issues with the face as identity. Black face and white face are explored in relation to the figure, usually female and nude. Unlike Brown, Charlton uses the figure to make a statement without clothes, but relies on props and symbols to convey a message. Her theme is politically and sexually charged in a playful way, yet loaded by serious undertones. In one image, for example, Lincoln’s Hat sits on top of the butt of a bent-over black woman. Brown states that Charlton’s work makes her want to laugh, but more willingly cry due to the historical burdens of women, specifically black women represented in Charlton’s work.
Brown and Charlton address sampling, appropriation, and the unquestionable significance these devices have in both of their work. Charlton believes sampling to be culturally free and that an artist is able to “sample” or use something and have the freedom to change its meaning, but not its character. Charlton clearly states that appropriation is a cultural denial. Brown stays committed to research, “owning it”, which is why she is critical on issues of social responsibility in her work. The devices of sampling and appropriation through process are as inseparable from the appropriation and sampling of cultures addressed in their work.
Brown and Charlton both rely on the media as a core source for research. They are critical about the media’s representations of culture and they exemplify a critical view of the media in their work. Charlton states, “We must be proud and critical of who we are and be aware of imitating the constructions of who we are.” Brown gets personal by confessing her shame and weakness to consumerism; she has recently purchased an ipod. This fall to consumerism has inspired a new body of work; ugly, teethed worms trying to drink Hypnotic painted on mirrors in the style of Japanese Animation. Brown tells us to fight the demons, stay strong.
Throughout this lecture, I cannot keep my eyes off iona and Zoë. Their clothing, body language, and personal exchanges exert confidence and pride. There is an element of magic to their presence. I am aware of my own “whiteness” and just as I begin to start aestheticizing these two black women artists, it is no longer about race. As I begin to share similar ideas on women and beauty, it is no longer about gender. We, all people, struggle with the complexities of identity. The discussion has taken a turn and it is not about separating, but instead about celebrating the commonalities of people. After the discussion, I find myself on an unintentional journey tracing back to my own history and personal experiences.