From the Issue: Qu’est ce que c’est RoboCop?
Written by Bwog Staff
The print magazine is rushing here from New Jersey–until it arrives, here’s another teaser from B&W Culture Editor Paul Barndt. Art by Shaina Rubin.
The French Evolution: Race, Politics, and the 2005 Riots, works by Alexis Peskine
Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Arts
80 Hanson Place, Brooklyn
Directions: Take the downtown 2/3 to Atlantic Avenue
When I arrived at MoCADA, the Bastille Day party was going strong— consummated with free crêpes in the museum’s backyard. The seminal French holiday was an occasion to celebrate not just independence, but MoCADA‘s current exhibit, “The French Evolution.” Founded in 1999 in by Laurie Cumbo, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Arts currently occupies the ground floor of the James E. Davis Arts Building—a several-story space not far into Brooklyn and just down the block from the large Pacific-Atlantic Ave. subway stop— which the Brooklyn Academy of Music allots to various artists and arts organizations (the contemporary music collective “Bang on a Can”, for example, has the seventh floor). One such artist, Alexis Peskine, the creator of “French Evolution” is the poster boy for MoCADA‘s mission— he has French, Russian Jewish, and Afro-Brazilian heritage. He splits his time between Paris, his childhood home, Salvador, Brazil, (where his mother’s family lives), Washington, D.C., and New York; he was educated in the States.
Peskine is at least 6’4”, and built like a linebacker; he first came to America for high school basketball camp, and went on to play football at Howard University. When I met him, he was wearing jeans and a yellow Astro Boy t-shirt. His soft, thoughtful voice had traces of France and Brooklyn.
The focal point of his exhibition is the 2005 French riots, eruptions of civil unrest which occurred predominantly in Paris’ banlieues, (outskirts, or suburbs), where large numbers of Arabs and Africans have emigrated in recent years. Peskine is an able, versatile guide on the roads of this thorny conflict.
MoCADA has three rooms, and, roughly speaking, the first contains political cartoons with popular icons. In one several-feet-high painting, RoboCop, holding a baguette, looms over most of the frame. RoboCop looms over a background of hundreds of French national identification cards, which all French citizens are required to carry. On occasion, French policeman will ask people to produce these cards, (more frequently in certain neighborhoods than in others). Peskine explained that the baguette symbolized the attempt to “beat the Frenchness” into people from other cultures. “I thought about putting a beret on [RoboCop], but that may have been a little too much,” he told me.
The second room contains a mix of the sociopolitical—one wall is covered with dozens of copies of a racist food advertisement—and the personal—Peskine had transformed his own elementary school class photo into a conceptual grid. The black paint and white canvas of the mapping allows the races and genders of the students to become ambiguous. The title of the work is Qui?
In the third room there are many portraits, including one of Peskine’s mother, done in a signature style involving hundreds and hundreds of nails. First, Peskine uses rasterization—the process of turning an image into a series of pixels or dots. Then, using that photograph as a guide, he outlines the painting with nails in place of those dots in an almost pointillist style. Each nail must be exactly the right size, and it takes much filing and even more hammering to complete each work. The result is an unusual mix of media and visual experience, both digital and eminently tactile.
His work has plenty to teach an American audience, although he is perhaps even more excited at the prospect of taking “The French Evolution” to France. “If you are not white, if you are a minority in France,” he said, “There is a victimization mindset. You are not supposed to complain. I hope people can see this, and I hope it excites them.”
The French Evolution ends on September 9, but it’s the perfect first weekend of school adventure, both for adventurous first-years planning a Brooklyn excursion, and for upperclassmen looking for good art right off the 2/3.
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