James Cohan opens an exhibition of new work by Christopher Myers
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James Cohan opens an exhibition of new work by Christopher Myers
Nat Turner, 2022, stained glass, 90 1/8 x 45 1/8 in. (229 x 114.5 cm) (detail).

NEW YORK, NY.- James Cohan is presenting The Hands of Strange Children, an exhibition of new work by Christopher Myers, on view at the gallery’s 52 Walker Street location from March 5 through April 2, 2022. This is Myers’ first solo show with James Cohan in New York. The gallery will host an opening reception with the artist on Saturday, March 5 from 2-6 PM. Masks are required for entry.

Christopher Myers is an artist and writer whose transdisciplinary work is rooted in storytelling. Myers delves into the margins of the historical archive to reconstruct narratives that parse the slippages between history and mythology. His deeply researched and diverse practice spans textiles, performance, film, and sculptural objects, often created in collaboration with artisans from around the globe.

For The Hands of Strange Children, Myers has created a series of narrative tapestries and a suite of stained-glass paintings that excavate the lives and legacies of six revolutionary prophets: Wovoka, Nongqawuse, Nat Turner, Hong Xiuquan, Te Ua Haumene, and Alice Lawkena. Spanning a wide geography of times and places, Myers sees these figures as representatives of a grand tradition of colonized peoples. Each took what was not theirs and made it their own, using the very tools of subjugation to build emancipatory philosophies and moveme Myers examines the beautiful failures of these prophets, filtering them through the “transformative materiality of narrative” to create portraits of icons of resistance that speak powerfully to the present.

The stained-glass paintings in the exhibition each depict a prophet, capturing a moment of liberatory transcendence in a medium most commonly associated with sacred Christian architectural spaces. Myers condenses the signs and symbols of their spiritual and historic narratives into syncretic portraits of these revolutionary icons. In Te Au Haumene, 2022, Myers depicts the Maori religious leader in a composition that gives visual form to the hybrid gospel Haumene espoused, arranging his limbs in a pose drawn from Christian iconography while garbed in traditional Maori dress. These cross religious samplings demonstrate the blendings of belief and religious motifs across time and geography.

For Myers, there is a connection between the material form of the works and the histories they explore. He writes: “Just as quilts are made from scraps of fabric, the mythologies of these movements are made from a mixture of religious stories from all around the world.” In his hand-stitched textiles, Myers uses appliqué, a technique that appears often in quilting and banner making, and has developed as a tangible union of diverse cultural and visual practices. Each tapestry creates an emblematic space for the narratives of these prophets’ hybridized visions to unfold.

In a major tapestry work, Knowledge of the Elements, Revolution of the Planets, 2022, Myers explores Nat Turner’s understanding of himself as a vessel for special wisdom. Four disks at the corners of this tapestry refer to four different kinds of knowledge. This reclamation of spiritual and cosmological knowledge has special relevance for an African-American of his time, when reading itself was an outlawed practice for Black bodies. Turner is depicted at the crossroads of all four knowledge systems, an inheritor and interpreter of multiple traditions.

Also included in the back gallery of the exhibition is the monumental tapestry Sarah Forbes Bonetta as Omoba Aina as Persephone, 2021, from Myers’ related project I Dare Not Appear. In this work, Myers visually unfolds the defining moments of Forbes Bonneta’s existence as a string of elliptical moments that resonate across a century. She, like the six prophets, is envisioned as an icon that stands at the intersection–or collision–of multiple narratives of slavery, colonization, civilization, and culture. For Myers, Forbes Bonetta’s life in the diaspora speaks to the realities of colonialism, which gave rise to the spiritual hybridities he explores further in the other works on view. He writes, “Her place as an in-betweener, someone not fully home, neither here nor there, presages a lot of folks in the world subsequently. For all of the diaspora, globally, we live on the hyphen, like Sarah Forbes Bonetta, in the space between here and there.”

The works in The Hands of Strange Children exemplify Christopher Myers’ deft hand in translating histories and mythologies gleaned through careful research into evocative material form. That these six anti-colonial prophets ultimately failed to achieve their aims is, for Myers, instructive. It suggests that perhaps the systems and hegemonies of the world are intractable, and that we must instead find new ways to define freedom and dignity within these systems. Their failures provide the artist, and his viewers, with a roadmap for new emancipatory possibilities.

Christopher Myers (b. New York City in 1974) earned his B.A. in Art-Semiotics and American Civilization with a focus on race and culture from Brown University in 1995 and participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Studio Program in 1996. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally at venues including MoMA PS1; Art Institute of Chicago; The Mistake Room, Guadalajara, Mexico; Akron Art Museum; Contrast Gallery, Shanghai; Goethe-Institut, Accra, Ghana; Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, Rwanda; San Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Myers is currently working on a Percent for Art Commission at the Brooklyn Brownsville Public Library, expected to be completed in 2022. His work is included in the permanent collections of institutions including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Lucas Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MA; Nasher Museum at Duke University, Durham, NC, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Myers won a Caldecott Honor in 1998 for his illustrations in the book Harlem and a Coretta Scott King Award in 2016 for illustrating Firebird with Misty Copeland. Myers currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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