Critics’ Picks

View of “The Ease of Fiction,” 2016.

Los Angeles

“The Ease of Fiction”

California African American Museum (CAAM)
600 State Drive, Exposition Park
October 19–February 26

“The Ease of Fiction” brings together the disparate work of ruby onyinyechi amanze, Duhirwe Rushemeza, Sherin Guirguis, and Meleko Mokgosi, all of whom were born in Africa and now live and work in the US. Though these artists are in a unique position to comment on what constitutes African art and the stereotypes and caricatures to which it has been subject, the strength of this exhibition is not its ability to levy a cohesive argument but rather its insistence on formal and political diversity.

That said, the artists negotiate between the freedom of play and the responsibility to reflect on reality, a struggle that is often visualized as an interplay between abstraction and representation, which is most clearly seen in amanze’s surreal drawings that circulate her self-portrait in a fantastical world of birds, astronaut odalisques, and tiger-headed creatures. Her drawings give way on the next wall to Mokgosi’s masterwork Democratic Intuition, Exordium, 2014–15, a series of vignettes painted across eleven canvases, depicting scenes from the artist’s native Botswana and South Africa. Compelling figuration lulls us into a narrative that slowly dissipates into passages of gestural paint, exposing the construction of representation. That fuzziness between truth and fiction also manifests in the nearly illegible central canvas, which resembles a sun-bleached photograph, invoking indexicality only to deny us the comfort of history and veracity traditionally implied by the photographic image.

Rushemeza’s richly textured sculptural paintings deceptively re-create aging urban surfaces, while Guirguis’s trio of massive paper sheets are hand-cut into intricate screens derived from Egyptian architecture, interrupted with bursts of colored ink. Guirguis translates the conflict between containment and exuberance into Untitled (El Sokareya), 2013, a floor-bound sculpture comprising interlocking plywood petals that explode into one bold gesture—crystallizing most concisely and forcefully the tensions that ripple throughout the show.