Critics’ Picks

Nikita Gale, untitled single leaf diptych from book entitled 1961, 2012, archival pigment prints with collage, 26 1/2 x 31 1/2”.


Nikita Gale

1123 Zonolite Rd NE, Suite 20A Floataway Building
September 7–October 13

Violence simmers beneath the surface of Nikita Gale’s latest exhibition, “1961.” Trained as an archaeologist, Gale here conducts a visual excavation of the titular year by juxtaposing mug shots of Civil Rights activists the Freedom Riders (culled from state archives in Mississippi) and found Kodacrome slides (from an antique store in White County, Georgia) with politically strident texts, which creates charged palimpsests of personal and historical imagery. The show features twenty diptychs that pair the slides with the mug shots. Gale has sliced and layered the latter so that each image reveals two faces from different races. In contrast with the grim faces of the Freedom Riders, the lushly colored slides feature a white family and their friends taking vacations and attending homecoming parades and debutante events. Below these images are fragments of text from two pro-segregation letters, one from the Grand Wizard of the KKK to Malcolm X, and the other a transcript of a speech by the lieutenant governor of Georgia. Importantly, the origins of the text are not evident in the artworks, and to a viewer it seems possible that the phrases could have originated on either side of the civil rights struggle. Quotations such as THEY KNOW THAT YOU DON’T LIKE THE WAY YOU CAN’T WIN could be bigoted words or a call against racism. The texts and images in conjunction defy a predictable didactic reading of this historic moment, leaving the viewer with an affective appeal to the past.

Gale’s carefully composed artworks reveal what archaeology cannot. While that discipline attempts to understand a culture or epoch through physical detritus, it doesn’t collect the intangible, internal thoughts of what it seeks to describe. Through the nuanced presentation of images from 1961, Gale exposes the elusive emotional aspect of that time.