NASHVILLE, TENN.- The Frist Art Museum
presents Nashville-based artist LeXander Bryants debut solo museum exhibition Forget Me Nots. Featuring multimedia worksincluding a sculpture, photographs, murals, and a new videothe exhibition addresses themes of perseverance amid adversity, family structures and bonds, economic inequality, community activism, and more. Organized by the Frist Art Museum, Forget Me Nots is on view in the Frists Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery from January 28 through May 1, 2022.
In his community-focused practice, Bryant (b. 1989) uses different mediums to inspire, challenge, and uplift his audiences. A prolific and in-demand photographer and filmmaker, Bryant has collaborated with local creatives and establishments ranging from rapper Mike Floss, visual artists María Magdalena Campos-Pons and doughjoe, and Slim & Huskys Pizza Beeria on various projects. Many Nashvillians may also be familiar with Bryants wheat-paste murals (or posters, as he calls them) from public spaces; his mural Opportunity Co$t was also featured in the 2019 Frist Art Museum exhibition Murals of North Nashville Now.
Whether in his hometown of Jackson, Alabama; neighborhoods in Nashville, where he has lived since 2016; or elsewhere, Bryants lens is focused on people and places that are often overlooked, says Frist Art Museum senior curator Katie Delmez. In this exhibition, nearly four dozen snapshots of everyday life make up what Bryant calls a memory wall documenting figures and stories that collectively refuse to be forgotten. Bryant sees parts of his own past in these images, recognizing the influence of elders in his community, for example, or the success his cousins Oldsmobile Cutlass symbolized for him as he developed and matured.
Seen together, the images depict a cultural vibrancyyoung Black boys on bikes are pictured outside a North Nashville convenience store; a man clips his sons hair outside their apartment complex. Other photographs subtly counter negative stereotypes. In one poignant image, a young girl rests in her fathers lap on a subway bench with her arm draped around his neck.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a suspended slab of cracked concrete out of which blue forget-me-not flowers bloom. The installation echoes the sentiment of late rapper Tupac Shakurs poem The Rose that Grew from Concrete and honors survival and growth despite seemingly impossible circumstances. Instead of roses, forget-me-nots are used to underscore the importance of remembering ones past. The concrete base of the sculpture represents Bryants fathers career in construction and the time they have spent working together. By using the material of his fathers trade, Bryant incorporates his family in the work, making it a literal and symbolic foundation. Bryant asserts the value of his fathers labor by incorporating concrete into his fine art object, says Delmez.
The sculpture is elevated to remind viewers, especially children, that just because we cant see something doesnt mean it isnt there. The work also reflects aspirational goalsone of the artists recurring messages to Black youth is that there are multitudes of fulfilling careers beyond music and sports. Bryants own creative path has been circuitous, partly because he had limited knowledge about vocational opportunities while growing up in rural Alabama, says Delmez. He spent six years in the Air Force Reserve after high school before studying industrial technology with a concentration in graphic communication at Alabama A&M University, an HBCU in Huntsville. These experiences greatly shaped the emerging artist and remain ingrained in his memory.
In contrast to the collage-like assemblage of documentary street photography in the memory wall is a selection of Bryants larger-scale studio works. More singular in their emphasis, these compositions zoom in on one part of an individuals body, signaling the universality of the human form and the need for physical and spiritual nourishment, says Delmez. In Dont Blame the Youth, a photograph shot in conjunction with Mike Flosss 2015 album of the same name, a boy holds a spoon filled with milk and gun shells rather than the cereal that should have come from the Lucky Charms box on the table. Bryant is pointing out the unlucky position many young people face as they attempt to escape the lies they are fed by the media, advertising, and other sources and to go on to lead healthy, creative, and intentional lives.
An experimental video created for the exhibition includes clips from past projects along with intimate interviews with family and friends from his hometown in South Alabama. Together, the works on view offer an opportunity to consider ones present position by thinking critically about the past and envisioning ones legacy.