All photos by Will Lytch | USF Graphicstudio

A Family Affair 

August 24-December 12, 2015

University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, Florida

A Family Affair presents seven artists who explore personal identity and family relationships through photography, video, performance and animation: Renee Cox, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Kalup Linzy, Jacolby Satterwhite, Hank Willis Thomas, Corine Vermeulen and Deborah Willis. Adopting a range of approaches from documentary to fiction, they articulate visions of self situated within interpersonal and historical family contexts as well as broader social frameworks of race, class and gender, often working in collaboration with family members to realize their art. During the exhibition Corine Vermeulen will be in residence and undertake a three-month community-based project in collaboration with the University Area Community Development Corporation, photographing residents of the University Area community adjacent to USF in exchange for stories of neighborhood and family life. A Family Affair is curated by USFCAM Associate Curator Megan Voeller and organized by USFCAM.

Exhibition brochure: download.

Curator’s introduction:

A Family Affair highlights seven artists who explore personal identity and family relationships through photography, video, performance and animation. They adopt a range of approaches, from documentary to fiction, to articulate visions of self within interpersonal and historical family contexts as well as broader frameworks of race, class and gender, often collaborating with family members to realize their art.

Renee Cox is known for her provocative photographic works that overturn race and gender stereotypes. In Olympia’s Boyz (2001), a 14-foot-wide digital c-print mounted on aluminum, Cox restages Edouard Manet’s iconic painting Olympia (1863), replacing the image’s central figures—a white prostitute and a black maid—with herself, an empowered, toned black matriarch in the nude, and her biracial sons. The maneuver recalls an earlier work by Cox, her remake of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper featuring the artist in the role of Christ and titled Yo Mama’s Last Supper (1999). While on display at the Brooklyn Museum in 2001, that photograph prompted then-New York City major Rudolph Giuliani to call for decency standards at publically funded museums.

My Son brings the same style of bold, frontal portraiture seen in Olympia’s Boyz to a more vulnerable depiction of Cox’s elder son draped in an American flag. The flag, with a single emblazoned star that echoes the boy’s delicate strength, underscores the complexity of his heritage as the offspring of Jamaican-born, New York-bred Cox and her French-born husband. Such nuances are further explored in Family Snaps, an installation of 88 of Cox’s family photographs—from casual snapshots of recent years to formal portraits of past generations—that invites contemplation of race and class, relationships and individuality, place and culture, and (noticeably) love within the family.

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s documentary photographs explore relationships between three generations of women—Frazier, her mother and grandmother—against the backdrop of Braddock, Pennsylvania, an industrial borough outside of Pittsburgh in economic decline since the 1980s. Collaborative self-portraits depict Frazier and her mother as loving and connected but also, at times, in tension or charged contrast; the strain grows when Mr. Art, Frazier’s mother’s boyfriend, enters the frame. Other photographs pay homage to Frazier’s grandmother, Ruby, with whom Frazier lived as a child, memorializing her through interior shots of a well-loved recliner, a refrigerator adorned with family photographs, and a nightstand bearing portraits of younger selves. The exhibition also includes Detox (Braddock U.P.M.C.) (2011), a video that follows Frazier and her mother as they seek a remedy for physical and mental health difficulties related to inequity and environmental contamination in the steel mill town.

Kalup Linzy’s Queen Rose Family Tree (2013-2015), a new installation of 83 hand-painted photographic collages commissioned for A Family Affair, details a fictional family tree, rooted in Stuckey, an historically black community in Central Florida, which resembles Linzy’s actual family and includes invented cousins Taiwan and Kaye Braswell, two of his most memorable characters. Embodying the Braswell cousins and others from the tree, Linzy performs original songs and soap operatic narratives, often in drag, investigating love, loss and the challenges of artistic and sexual self-realization. A selection of his videos includes episodes from Conversations wit de Churen (2002-present), a soap opera-esque series, and (Introducing Kaye) Romantic Loner (2013), Linzy’s first feature-length video.

In the video installation Heavenly Serenade (Taiwan Braswell), realized at USFCAM for the first time, Linzy reprises the role of Taiwan Braswell as a ghostly vision from the hereafter—a follow-up to the character’s mysterious demise aboard a cruise ship in Conversations wit de Churen X: One Life to Heal (2013). In keeping with the narrative conventions of soap opera, Taiwan reappears after his death for a final bravura performance, wearing a white sequined leotard designed for the character by Proenza Schouler and crooning “Asshole,” his signature ballad about a fickle love interest who abandons him for more fruitful sexual pastures.

Jacolby Satterwhite creates surreal 3D animations that combine his dance club-inspired movement performances with animated drawings of everyday objects and inventions by his mother, Patricia Satterwhite. Country Ball (1989-2012), incorporates vintage video of a family picnic, where the impromptu dancing of kids foretells Satterwhite’s later interest in fusing movement with animation, and nostalgia with fantasy. An accompanying video, The Matriarch’s Rhapsody (2012), charts relationships between Satterwhite’s animated forms, his mother’s drawings, and family photographs, connecting a life-world of everyday objects to the pulsing, fantastical environment of Country Ball.

A Family Affair includes individual and collaborative works by Hank Willis Thomas and Deborah Willis. Their collaborative self- portrait, Sometimes I See Myself In You (2008), merges the faces of both artists, who are son and mother. The nearly seamless transition between them invites a viewer to do a double take at the image’s central face, in which their features combine. Two individual works also trace their lineage through connections to each other. Willis’s Hank Pending (2008) pictures the artist (Deb) pregnant, radiant and at ease, while Thomas’s Thomas and Thomas (2008) depicts the artist (Hank) as an adult, dressed in nearly identical clothing and standing on a nearly identical street corner as an historical image of his maternal grandfather.

Thomas and Willis’s Words To Live By (2008) is another dramatic collaboration. To create the series of nine prints, the artists worked together to photograph 350 friends and family members in cities around the U.S., pairing images of their mouths with collected proverbs that offer advice—sometimes staid, sometimes humorous or provocative—for living wisely. The juxtaposition of lips and speech offers a reminder of the role played by words and beliefs, particularly of those nearest and dearest to us, but also of those in our broader cultural circles, in shaping our lived realities.

As A Family Affair opens, one aspect of the exhibition is just beginning. From September through November, Dutch-born and Detroit-based photographer Corine Vermeulen will undertake a three-month, community-based residency—a rst-of-its-kind collaboration between USFCAM and the University Area Community Development Corporation—photographing residents of the University Area neighborhood adjacent to USF’s Tampa campus in exchange for stories of community and family life. An installation of Vermeulen’s photographs and the accompanying stories will accumulate at USFCAM during the course of the exhibition, culminating in a gallery talk on November 19. Please join us throughout the fall to witness the progress of the installation.