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Jack Shainman Gallery presents an exhibition of recent work by Meleko Mokgosi for his ongoing project ‘Spaces of Subjection’ (2020-present). Comprised of paintings and prints, this project examines the notions of space outside of the confines of figuration and perspectival representation.

Meleko Mokgosi, Spaces of Subjection: Black Painting III, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman.

‘Spaces of Subjection’ brings together the scope of historiography, human versus non-human, ancestral and indigenous histories, contours of divination, processes of socialisation, discursive spaces that are constitutive of imagining (such as Black romanticism), and gaps that distinguish realism from magical realism, and surrealism from capriccio. Meditating on references ranging from Maya Angelou’s lecture “Rainbow in the Clouds,” James Baldwin’s film Take This Hammer, Michel Foucault’s treatise “The Subject and Power,” Beverly Jenkins’ romance novels, Michael Kelly’s analysis of aesthetic philosophies, to Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage theory, Mokgosi furthers the argument that subjection is a structural necessity for becoming. 

In order to investigate the complexities of subjecthood, Mokgosi tests oppositional modes of his practice, considering the ideation, artwork, and responses that emerge from creating in solitary versus communal environments, monochromatic versus polychromatic palettes, and improvisational versus studied techniques. As if the control in a scientific experiment, each limitation he implements reveals how aesthetics are a form of critical theory and a result of the interdependent semiotics of image and text.

In one such study, he reproduces every page of Sara Cone Bryant’s 1911 children’s book Epaminondas and His Auntie onto fourteen large canvases, which are then arranged as a storyboard. Confronting the racist overtones in the book’s illustrations and dialogue, Mokgosi inscribes the margins with annotations from luminaries like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou. Combating the book object as a device for teaching and perpetuating racial stereotypes and xenophobic rhetoric from parent to child – sparse type implying straightforward narrative – Mokgosi’s handwritten marginalia restores a human voice to the subjects in opposition to the derision and division brought about by their subjecthood.

At the nexus of ‘Spaces of Subjection’ is an inquiry into how a subject can occupy a space without their identity overdetermining an analysis of their subjectivity. As an artist and educator, Mokgosi approaches his subjects from a perspective that is in recognition and celebration of the myriad iterations that can result from a divergent and durational investigation. This project is a process of unfolding, an evolving body of work that will offer its subject time to explore the infinite paths to the act of becoming.

Meleko Mokgosi (born in Francistown, Botswana; lives and works in Wellesley, MA) is an artist, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the Yale School of Art, and the Co-founder and Director of the Interdisciplinary Art and Theory Program. Mokgosi received his BA from Williams College in 2007 and participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program that same year. He then received his MFA from the Interdisciplinary Studio Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2011, and was an Artist in Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem from 2011 through 2012. Mokgosi’s large-scale, figurative, and often text-based works engage history painting and cinematic tropes to investigate historiography, democracy, and liberation movements across Africa and the diaspora. His most recent body of work, ‘Spaces of Subjection’, examines subjection and subjectivity as they pertain to perspectives on African, African American, and Black life. This work was part of the solo exhibition Currents 122 at the St. Louis Art Museum in 2022, as well as the solo exhibition Imaging Imaginations at the Art Gallery of York University in 2023.

The exhibition will be on view from the 2nd of November until the 22nd of December, 2023. For more information, please visit Jack Shainman.

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