new-york

Laylah Ali

303 Gallery

LAYLAH ALI'S LATEST “Greenhead” paintings, on view recently in the young Boston-based artist's first solo show in New York, look spare and cool with their blue backgrounds and cartoony figures in gouache on paper. The almost identical Greenheads, each with bulging white eyes, a thin brown body, and an oversize, round, dark-green head, make mechanical gestures: They wave their thin arms, run in a row, or offer objects to one another. Like superheroes, they wear simple uniforms, yet their actions are anything but heroic or simple. Throughout the small-scale scenarios appear tiny, pointed details—disembodied heads, missing limbs, leather belts, executioners' masks, wailing children—that suggest ominous narratives of historical and familial violence, driving the work beyond comic-book innocence into a realm of ritual humiliation, betrayal, complicity, and shame.

In one painting (all

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