647 Fulton Street
March 15 - April 29
In the spring of 1863, the southern photographers McPherson and Oliver took an indelible portrait of a man who had escaped from a Louisiana plantation and sought refuge in a Union camp. It was at the height of the American Civil War. The man, his full name lost to history, was known as Slave Gordon, or Whipped Peter. McPherson and Oliver photographed him with his back turned three-quarters to the camera, elbow bent, a fist to his hip. Six months before crossing a river and rubbing his body with onions to throw off search dogs, Gordon had been brutally beaten by an overseer. Scars gouge his back. His portrait was printed on cartes de visite, reproduced in Harper’s Weekly, and widely circulated as evidence of slavery’s unconscionable cruelty. It appears, some hundred and fifty years later, vivid and vicious as ever, as the focal point of an equally unforgettable portrait—by the Haitian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Fabiola Jean-Louis.
Jean-Louis’s Madame Beauvoir’s Painting, 2016, shows a young black woman in an opulent gown, her back turned three-quarters to the viewer, regarding a painted version of Gordon’s destroyed body. The setting is decidedly baroque. The catch: Jean-Louis is both a photographer and a sculptor. The gown is also a piece, a life-size sculptural object made entirely of paper. This image and another, Marie Antoinette Is Dead, 2016, are paired with an actual paper gown, Running Through Time, 2018, to form the heart-stopping moment at the center of this excellent, fiercely complicated group show exploring the web of relationships that exists among the two nations on the island of Hispaniola, their diasporas, colonial Europe, and the imperial US. Nineteen artists—including Edouard Duval-Carrié, iliana emilia garcia, Tessa Mars, Groana Melendez, and Alex Morel—fill the amphitheater-like community space here with a wild array of works, each, like Jean-Louis, winding a vital history lesson around formal invention.