Chiffon Thomas' first solo exhibition with P·P·O·W opens in New York

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Chiffon Thomas' first solo exhibition with P·P·O·W opens in New York
Installation view.

NEW YORK, NY.- PPOW is presenting Staircase to the Rose Window, Chiffon Thomas’ first solo exhibition with the gallery. Synthesizing embroidery, collage, drawing, and sculpture, Thomas’ practice contends with the crafted body to examine wider issues of gender, race, sexuality and institutional power. Forcefully eschewing easy classification, Thomas’ “impossible bodies” embrace the space between figuration and abstraction. With an intuitive application of utilitarian and industrial materials, Thomas creates a visual language for translating both cultural narratives and personal experiences which push toward tangible forms of healing. Inspired by science fiction authors such as Octavia Butler, childhood memories, and his own physical experience of transformation, Thomas’ Staircase to the Rose Window transports the viewer to a dystopian world that allegorizes the quest for satisfaction in the face of persistent longing.

On the South Side of Chicago, amid the Bronzeville community’s sprawling public housing units, Thomas remembers childhood encounters with an incongruously gothic rose window towering above the complex’s main courtyard. No matter how many steps he climbed, the window was always just out of reach, its hazy oculus becoming an inaccessible portal, encapsulating unrequited promises of transformation, desire, and possibility. As Thomas notes, “this idea of being transformed foregrounds the cosmetic upgrades my own body has endured over the past decade. My body is that of a trans person; a culmination of hormones, haircuts, scars, muscle and fat redistribution, presentation, and demeanor, that subtly shift the way the world perceives me and the way I perceive myself within the world. I have watched my body reconfigure itself only to reach a state of relief, comfort, or contentment. In doing so, I have also grieved parts of my body that I have had to detach from physically and mentally.” In Staircase to the Rose Window, Thomas physicalizes these emotions and experiences in a parallel post-apocalyptic world: a hot, inhospitable desert filled with the detritus from a pre-existing civilization. Amid discarded box fans, rusted hardware, and peeling columns, a central figure wanders within an inconclusive loop under the watchful eyes of rose-window-adorned-towers.

“History is slanted, but Thomas can write his own story.”[1] In Staircase to the Rose Window, Thomas makes pliable the social, political, and religious institutions once considered rigid and impenetrable. In Rose Window Tower, 2022, Thomas burns, welds, and transforms forgotten architectural elements such as wooden columns and tin ceiling panels to reconstruct designs of a former society and its hierarchical social systems. The sculpture’s woven tin and steel dome rises above the landscape, operating as both surveillance tool and gateway. In an ongoing new series also on view, Thomas reconstructs Christian Bible covers into a series of “Bible houses” each named after specific Chicago public housing communities. Grappling with experiences of growing up within Jehovah's Witnesses, Thomas’ delicately sown and suspended miniature structures pay homage to the fervent religious communities on the South Side of Chicago by harnessing a resourceful materiality, revealing the simultaneous vulnerability and power required to uphold communities, cultures and identities.

A trained percussionist, Thomas will combine sculpture and sound for the first time, activating several of the sculptures throughout the exhibition with an ambient score. A performance by the artist will begin at 7pm opening night.

Staircase to the Rose Window will be accompanied by a catalogue featuring an essay by curator and art writer Osman Can Yerebakan.

Born in Chicago, IL, Chiffon Thomas (b. 1991) holds an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Thomas has been included in exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL; Sculpture Center, Long Island City, NY; PPOW, New York, NY; Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Kavi Gupta, Chicago, IL; Galerie Perrotin, Tokyo, Japan; and the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, among others. Thomas has completed prominent residencies with the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME and the Fountainhead Residency, Miami, FL. His work is in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL; Prez Art Museum, Miami, FL; X Museum, Beijing, China; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL; and the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH; among others. In September 2023, Thomas will present his first solo museum exhibition at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT.

[1] Yerebakan, Osman Can, Cracks are like veins, rust, like paint, PPOW, 2022.

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