Curated by Andil Gosine, everything slackens in a wreck Features Artists Margaret Chen, Andrea Chung, Wendy Nanan and Kelly Sinnapah Mary
NEW YORK, NY - The Ford Foundation Gallery will reopen its physical space with everything slackens in a wreck, an exhibition running from June 1 to August 20, 2022. The gallery will host an opening reception with the artists on June 1 from 7 to 9 p.m and viewing hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The titular metaphor of wreckage evokes colonialism and the destruction left in its wake, but it also echoes what the exhibition’s curator calls the “wrecking work” of marginalized peoples who answer this destruction with art that invents its own subversive forms of order, rendering alternate visions of existence, and co-existence, imaginable, and therefore possible. Featuring the work of four artists with a shared diasporic heritage and curated by Trinidadian scholar, author and artist Andil Gosine, everything slackens in a wreck is the first show to appear in the Ford Foundation Gallery space since its closure in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The exhibition includes Margaret Chen (Jamaica/Canada), Andrea Chung (USA), Wendy Nanan (Trinidad and Tobago) and Kelly Sinnapah Mary (Guadeloupe). The four women share heritage in the indentureship program, which brought Asian migrants to the Americas and elsewhere to labor on plantations following the abolition of slavery. They also share a playful and disruptive approach to this history’s complex afterlife, through combining and reimagining artifacts and images associated with it. The curator was deliberate in putting the two pairs of artists in conversation. Chinese-Jamaican Chen, 71, and Indo-Trinidadian Nanan, 67, are pioneering Caribbean artists in their fields, and one witnesses legacies and departures from their practices in the new works created exclusively for this exhibition by Caribbean American Chung, 44, and Indo-Guadeloupean Sinnapah Mary, 42, who both elaborate and expand on ideas that similarly draw on this shared history.
The exhibition highlights the ways their artistic processes echo their own and their families’ ongoing journeys of invention and reinvention, as complex identities merge and evolve. Using paint, papier-mâché and foraged items like wood and shells, the artists transform humble materials into intricate forms and hybrid creatures that are part plant and part human, linking the inherent creativity of the natural world to the adaptive practices migrants use to survive and thrive.
With a reading library onsite, videos in the gallery, an illustrated catalogue and other publications and related artworks in the Ford Foundation space, everything slackens in a wreck offers visitors a roadmap for discovering new forms of agency in the path of destruction.
Curator Andil Gosine, Professor of Environmental Arts and Justice at York University in Toronto and author of Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean (Duke, 2021), drew the exhibition title from a phrase in “Cale d’étoiles,” Khal Torabully’s epic poem about Indians traveling to the Caribbean, Mauritius, Fiji and South Africa between 1838 and 1917. Continuing the theme of wreckage as a symbol for colonialism, Gosine coined the term “wrecking work” to describe how migrant women use creative tactics to disrupt gender norms and the status quo, raising larger questions about received views of the so-called “natural order.” “Possibilities always open up in the fissures created by crisis,” Gosine writes. “The framework of this exhibition bears broader relevance, as evidenced in 2020 by the myriad responses to the pandemic and the stunning force of the Black Lives Matter movement; however bad things get, the human spirit and our survivalist drive force new shifts and invent new paths.”
Margaret Chen foraged oyster shells from mangroves and plywood cast-offs from the studio that was previously a part of her family's furniture business to construct “Cross-section of labyrinth,” a 22’ wide floor piece that looks as delicate as a leaf floating on water. Raised in a family of Chinese migrants who owned a furniture business, Chen became interested in wood as an art material when she studied with Afro-Jamaican sculptor Winston Patrick at the Jamaica School of Art and Crafts. Later, when she would return to her family’s store, Chen gathered the leftover shapes and scraps, infusing them with new life and meaning in her art. “That is what I do,” she says in the catalogue. “I take leavings from whatever is there. That’s the interesting bits.”
Andrea Chung’s contribution, crafted on-site in the gallery out of sugarcane scraps collected in Trinidad, is a massive community bird’s nest. Born in the United States to a Chinese-Jamaican father and Trinidadian mother, the artist modeled the form on the elaborate creations of weaver birds she observed in Mauritius (pictured in prints on the gallery walls). “I came to see the weaver bird’s process as a metaphor for how enslaved and indentured peoples are forced to adapt and create homes in spaces that weren’t created with their survival in mind,” Chung says in the catalogue. “Building nests,” she explains, “is an opportunity to bring that metaphor to life…to pay homage to the resilience and tenacity of groups impacted by the transatlantic slave trade.”
Guadeloupean artist Kelly Sinnapah Mary is contributing two series of work to everything slackens in a wreck: five large scale paintings comprising a triptych and renditions of her parents and 20 papier mâché sculptures from her series “Notebook of No Return.” For Sinnapah Mary, creating art is a way to process a heritage she did not know about until adulthood: that she is descended from indentured Indian workers brought to Guadeloupe. “When I was a child, I considered myself to be Afro-descendant. The story of my ancestors was never told to me–either in my family or at school,” she says in the catalogue. “I had this need to seek out and to shed light on a missing part of my story.” In the paintings, human forms (often the artist) merge with leaves, creating ethereal hybrids. Sinnapah Mary also appears in her playfully surrealist sculptures, including one in which she reimagines the Hindu Goddess Durga as a uniformed schoolgirl riding a tiger.
Wendy Nanan, who grew up with Christian and Hindu practices at home in Trinidad, contributes two series to everything slackens in a wreck. Her mixed-media pods—lips seductively parted and embedded with shells—are at once erotic and threatening, somewhere between woman and plant. Nanan’s papier mâché sculptures embody conflictive cultural hybrids: one shows the Hindu baby Krishna with Christian angel wings, holding a pride rainbow. “Idyllic Marriage” is clearly not—La Divina Pastora/Siparia Mai/the Black Madonna is depicted in a forced union with a menacing Vishnu. "What is so interesting about La Divina is that Hindus and Catholics share her, as well," the artist says in the catalogue, “That, for me, is the reality of what it means to be Trinidadian.”
Along with the four featured artists, everything slackens in a wreck will include various elements designed to engage and inspire visitors. At the show’s entrance, Antiguan artist amber williams-king’s beaded tapestry will announce the exhibition title and mark visitors’ entrance into the space of dream-like, multi-faceted possibility that the exhibition evokes. The Ford Foundation’s indoor garden will feature a soundscape produced by the curator in collaboration with the New York-based organization Jahajee Sisters, whose mission it to “address, redress and dismantle gender-based violence within the city’s Indo-Caribbean community. The collected sounds that comprise the score were the women’s responses to Gosine’s questions “What brings you joy? What brings you comfort?”
A reading room in the gallery will offer writings on hybrid culture, Caribbean queer and feminist issues and Afro-Asian identity. The exhibition catalogue includes texts by Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, gallery director Lisa Kim, curator Andil Gosine and essays on the featured artists: Elena Chou and Aitak Sorahitalab report on their dialogues with Margaret Chen, amber williams-king writes about her encounter with Andrea Chung’s practice; Wendy Nanan’s work is discussed by acclaimed poet-author Shivanee Ramlochan; and noted filmmaker Richard Fung writes a response to Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s work.
An orchestral score carries the exhibition’s story into the Ford Foundation atrium garden. “Jahajee (Ouverture)” was produced by Gosine in collaboration with Jahajee Sisters, a group of intergenerational Indo-Caribbean women who fight gender-based violence and create paths for self-determination. To create the work, the members will produce sounds from objects of their choosing that elicit memories attached to their experience of migration.
ABOUT ANDIL GOSINE
Andil Gosine is Professor of Environmental Arts and Justice at York University in Toronto, and author of Nature's Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean (Duke University Press, 2021). His research, curatorial and artistic practice considers historical and contemporary imbrications of desire, power and ecology, and the work represented in everything emerged from his multi-year project "Visual Arts After Indenture," which also led to numerous publications, including special editions of Small Axe, Wasafiri and Asian Diasporic Visual Arts of the Americas. He is currently engaged in creative collaborations with many artists to further elaborate ideas in Nature's Wild toward the production of new works, which will be exhibited at various venues internationally over the next five years.
ABOUT THE FORD FOUNDATION GALLERY
Opened in March 2019 at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice in New York City, the Ford Foundation Gallery aims to shine a light on artwork that wrestles with difficult questions, calls out injustice and points the way toward a fair and just future. Our hope is for this to be a responsive and adaptive space, one that serves the public in its openness to experimentation, contemplation and conversation. Located near the United Nations, the space is situated to draw visitors from around the world—and address questions that cross borders and speak to the universal struggle for human dignity.
The gallery is located inside the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice and is accessible to the public through the building entrance on 43rd Street, east of Second Avenue. Gallery events are open to the public, but registration is required.