Critics’ Picks

Rashaad Newsome, It Do Take Nerve 2, 2019, collage, automotive paint, mahogany and resin frame, 68 5/8 x 68 5/8 x 4".

Rashaad Newsome, It Do Take Nerve 2, 2019, collage, automotive paint, mahogany and resin frame, 68 5/8 x 68 5/8 x 4".

San Francisco

Rashaad Newsome

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture
2 Marina Boulevard SFAI Main Gallery, Pier 2
January 10–February 23, 2020

A brocade covers the gallery floor and walls in Rashaad Newsome’s exhibition “To Be Real.” Its design is a collage of bejeweled flowers, gold chains, and mouths, all with lips parted and teeth bared to show off equally bejeweled grills. Images of fragmented black bodies thread through the exhibition. At its center is Ansista (all works cited, 2019), a hybrid being, caught mid-vogue dip, formed from a nonbinary torso, a Chokwe Pho mask, the legs of a sex doll, acrylic nails, and Swarovski crystals. Being, a genderless chatbot with Ansista’s face, awaits visitors in a nearby theater. Although Being was taught to speak through the writings of bell hooks, Michel Foucault, and others, the chatbot is despondent. Visitors’ pleasantries (“Hello, Being” and “How are you, Being?”) are often met with forlorn shrugs.

A key to Newsome’s strategy of assemblage might be located in another philosopher’s text, Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, which describes disalienation, a process that enables black people to overcome their objectification under the white gaze by unlearning narratives of colonization: “Sealed into that crushing objecthood . . . I burst apart. Now the fragments have been put together again by another self.” Newsome explores the reconstruction of disassembled identities in self-possessed and joyous collages, particularly It Do Take Nerve 2, which portrays two black figures, woven together from photographs, caught between embrace and collision. The picture’s background is painted silver, and camouflaged black chains (made of resin) snake around the work’s custom frame, suggesting both decoration and bondage. Yet the black bodies seem too vibrant, too in motion, to be contained; they pop out from their reflective backdrop, becoming almost holographic.