All That I AM

All That I AM is an edition series organized by curator Larry Ossei-Mensah in collaboration with Art+Culture Projects that explores contemporary artists’ engagements with the complexities of cultural identity. The fourth installment of this series features Delphine Desane, February James, Tajh Rust, and Vaughn Spann, who all center the human condition and emotion in their work. All That I AM IV responds to a year noted for the COVID-19 pandemic, demands for civil justice, uprisings against police brutality across the country, and an unprecedented Presidential Election. All of the works featured in All That I AM IV take the viewer on a journey of the emotional spectrum that has impacted Black communities not only in the United States but around the world. This project reaffirms that during challenging times art becomes even more important and necessary to help guide us through uncertain times. All That I AM IV demands the acknowledgment of the multiplicity of the Black experience, human emotions, and strives to obtain equity as we approach 2021 and beyond.  

Delphine Desane daringly invites the viewer into her universe with the powerful work ‘Who? Me?.The piece is anchored by the piercing gaze of the subject towards the viewer.  The work evokes agency, strength and a “don’t f*ck with me” attitude that resonates boldly and clearly throughout the picture. Desane’s approach to painting is economical in detail but packs a punch with the heightened sense of visual vibratory energy that percolates from Who? Me?.’ February James’ work featured in ALL THAT I AM IV is entitled “An Archive Of Feelings.” James creates works that are creative evocations that respond to memory and the lived experience. She employs the act of cultural transmission as a way to amplify her investigation of the complexities within Black identity. February James’ work encapsulates the essence of a person through sinewy mark-making that gets to the core layer that we all possess as human beings. Although the subject may exude a feeling of melancholy, there is a tenderness that her figures invoke that functions as a reminder of the power in being in touch with your emotions no matter how pretty or dark that may be. Tajh Rust creates work that investigates the tension between Black identity and environments. For his piece “Vigil,” the work is filled with a litany of symbols and visual signifiers that Rust invites the viewer to decode. The subject is situated within the domestic space of a bedroom curled up in the fetal position clearly in emotional distress. The stars on the subjects’ shorts evoke a commentary on the United States coupled with a black swan in the background which alludes to the implicit bias that is ingrained in the DNA of America. A bias that doesn’t seek contend with America’s history with regards to people of color, the violence against Black bodies (particularly in their home – i.e. Breonna Taylor) and complicity to deny the existence of institutional racism in the United States. The juxtaposition between the subtle and overt in Rust’s piece is palpable. Vaughn Spann’s  “Basking in the Wind” closes out the collaboration on an optimistic note providing a bit of magical realism during a time full of many tumultuous realities. The piece wrestles with the duality that many Black people in America have to negotiate but is executed with a spellbinding flare. “Basking in the Wind” evokes a commentary on the  “self/selves” that encompass the nuance of the Black experience. The dream space illustrates Spann’s vivid imagination but also gestures towards a keen exploration of the idea of leisure or rest when it comes to Black folks. The two bunnies both black and white allude to the importance of balance to maneuver the intricacies of being Black in society. All That I AM IV highlights work by four artists that evoke a sensitivity and emotional capacity which is thoughtful, resonant, and provides a beacon of hope in these challenging times.

The first installment featured artists Derrick Adams, Sanford Biggers, Phoebe Boswell, and Kameelah Janan Rasheed. All four artists meticulously question edifice, language, narrative, and self-image. Their nuanced modus operandi pushes the boundaries of the status quo by challenging the viewer to confront a variety of issues that impact daily life, from the construction of identity via the media to the malleability of race-related vocabulary.

The second installment of this series features two dynamic female artists Jamea Richmond-Edwards and Deborah Roberts, both of whom skillfully utilize figuration as a tool to explore the complicated layers that encompass the African American experience and identity. As a result of their rigorous studio practices, Richmond-Edwards and Roberts portray their subjects with surgical care as they unapologetically engage the viewer’s gaze with regal self-assurance.

The third installment of this series features Firelei Báez, Jordan Casteel, and David Shrobe, all of whom exude a technical skill that enables the viewer to derive a unique understanding of figuration amplified by rich textures, vibrant colors, and tension between the background and foreground of each piece. 

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