Critics’ Picks

Rashayla Marie Brown, The Island Pose, 2013, photo on masonite, 24 x 36".

Rashayla Marie Brown, The Island Pose, 2013, photo on masonite, 24 x 36".

San Francisco

“The Grace Jones Project”

Museum of the African Diaspora
685 Mission St
April 27–September 18, 2016

“Grace Jones is everything I ever wanted to be as an artist . . . an experimental, progressive, avant-garde shapeshifter,” Xaviera Simmons asserts in one of this show’s wall labels. Contextualized by original album covers, fashion shoots, and music videos, the exhibition examines the influence of the model, actress, and singer on twelve contemporary artists. The powerful beauty and bold sexuality of the transgressive pop star defied heteronormative gender conventions and celebrated blackness during the 1970s and ’80s, when many of these artists were coming of age, and the works in the exhibition range from idolizing Jones to reclaiming agency over her sometimes contradictory persona.

The strength of the image in the digital age resonates in Cauleen Smith’s Living Grace’s Life in the Google, 2013–16, a slideshow of photographs of Jones collected from the Internet, and in Harold Offeh’s Covers: Arabesque, After Grace Jones, 1978, 2008–2009, a humorous one-minute video of the artist trying to re-create the physically impossible pose Jones adopted (with the help of photo-editing) on the cover of her 1985 album Island Life. Several works engage with sexualized posthuman cyborgs presaged by Jones, such as Jacolby Satterwhite’s CGI-animated futuristic narratives in an excerpt from En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance: Track #1: Healing in My House, 2015, and Wangechi Mutu’s collaged hybrid forms in Sick Planets, 2013. Other artists consider the paradox of Jones, who both embodied and subverted stereotypes. Rashayla Marie Brown’s photograph The Island Pose, 2013, perhaps best sums up the complexities of Jones’s legacy. Like Offeh, Brown attempts Jones’s graceful arabesque, but here she is dressed in tight white garments and photographed against a green screen, holding a copy of The Black Atlantic (1993) by Paul Gilroy and standing on Black Popular Culture (1992) by Michelle Wallace.