Critics’ Picks

View of “Jefferson Pinder: Onyx Odyssey,” 2015–16. Center: Overture (Start of Ethiopia), 2015.

View of “Jefferson Pinder: Onyx Odyssey,” 2015–16. Center: Overture (Start of Ethiopia), 2015.


Jefferson Pinder

Hyde Park Art Center
5020 S. Cornell Ave.
November 8, 2015–January 24, 2016

Jefferson Pinder’s first Chicago exhibition, “Onyx Odyssey,” is ambitious and nuanced, shying away from depicting a singular black experience in favor of a fluctuating and ambiguous study of American society. Above the gallery’s entrance is Gauntlet, 2015, a cluster of charred police batons strung by invisible wires. On the other side of the room hangs POTUS, 2015, a white neon drawing of President Obama’s eyes. The gaze is as cool as a billboard, conjuring a dream where anyone can succeed. Between these works stands Monolith (Dream Catcher), 2015, a collection of African masks piled inside a one-way glass vitrine with blue light. The masks remain hard to see but are seductive, slipping between a nonspecific archetypal group and a tomb of individuated faces. Monolith (Dream Catcher) reflects Assimilated, 2009, another white neon outline of the human body rising from a pile of coal on the ground. Even in its ambivalent transcendence, a hierarchical juxtaposition of black and white remains.

Celebratory moments occur as well, as with Pinder’s two-channel cinematic interpretation of Du Bois’s 1911 historical pageant, The Star of Ethiopia. Here, a veiled woman in a white dress soars through Chicago’s South Side with euphoric ease. Or high above POTUS, projected through windows onto the street, a multi-channel video titled Countermeasure, 2015, loops with a break-dancing crew’s translation of gestures from Black Lives Matter protests. Unlike the vitrine, the collected gestures are accessible and unfixed, marking a collective refusal of injustice.