Kendra Jayne Patrick opens an exhibition of works by Qualeasha Wood

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Kendra Jayne Patrick opens an exhibition of works by Qualeasha Wood
For women of color, long harried by the pressure to meet those standards, Wood proposes this leading to a new kind of dysmorphia.

NEW YORK, NY.- Qualeasha Wood’s latest investigations into digital Black womanhood lead her to the relationship between artificial intelligence and perceptions of the black femme self. AI engineered face and body filters encoded into Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, et al are far more intensely transformative than their predecessors. Lead by a myth of neutrality - a myth the tech bros cum overlords tell themselves over and over about the character of the systems they develop - the digital tools that alter bodies on social media surreptitiously and instantaneously impose Eurocentric beauty ideals upon us in overbearing ways.

For women of color, long harried by the pressure to meet those standards, Wood proposes this leading to a new kind of dysmorphia. One wherein Eurocentric beauty standards don’t simply haunt one from the magazine cover or the movie theater or even the trashy celebrity TikTok account. Instead, these standards sit directly on your visage, showing you exactly how green eyes, a dainty nose, a higher cheek as applied to the specifics of your face make ideal beauty *just* within reach. These digital interventions symbolize a complex interaction of technology, identity, and sexual expectations.

She posits that the allure of these filters isn’t merely about beautification, but about finding belonging in a society that regards Black femme culture as a commodity. These instant image alterations can translate to feelings of inadequacy, triggering both depersonalization (a disconnection from one’s own identity) and body dysmorphia (a distorted view of one’s own appearance). Exacerbated by the racial biases of AI filters, these conditions carry deep psychological weight. Wood is thinking heavily about Afro-pessimism and the reduction of self to a casualty of white supremacy.

The broader effects of these systems are also prominent. Among women Qualeasha’s generation and younger, plastic surgery is out in the open, run of the mill, whereas women older than her whisper about it, hoping any work they’ve had done goes unnoticed. “Snapchat dysmorphia” is a term coined by plastic surgeons who have within the last few years noticed an uptick of patients who, instead of bringing in photos of their favorite celebrity whom they want to resemble, now present AI-filtered and AI-edited versions of themselves as aspirational imperatives.

Qualeasha Wood (b.1996, Long Branch, NJ) lives and works in Philadelphia, PA. She received her BA in 2019 from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI and her MA in 2021 from Cranbrook Academy of Fine Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI. Wood has been included in It’s Time For Me To Go at MoMA PS1, an exhibition of works made during her residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem over the past year. She is highlighted in the 2022 Artsy Vanguard as one of the most promising artists working today. In May 2021, her work was featured on the front cover of Art in America. Recent exhibitions include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY (2022); Hauser & Wirth, NY (2022); Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London (2021); CANADA, NY (2021); Gaa Gallery, Provincetown, MA (2021); Trout Museumof Art, Appleton, WI (2021), and Kendra Jayne Patrick for Metro Pictures, NY (2020). Her work has recently been acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,TX.

In her textile practice, Wood brings together traditional craft techniques and contemporary technology.Her own image acts as a point of departure for works that explore racial, sexual and gender identity as they relate to the Black femme body. As a digital native, Wood deftly navigates an internet environment that is at once a space of celebration and recognition for Black femme figures, as well as a politically loaded site for the ongoing marginalisation and exploitation of their selfhood and culture. Woods’ tapestries combine cybernetic and analogue processes; in her work, a pixel is equivalent to a stitch, each stitch an analogy for the past, present and future of Black femmehood, both on- and off-line, pre- and post-internet.

While Wood’s tapestries blend images from social media with religious, specifically Catholic,iconography, her ‘tuftings’ represent cartoon-like figures that recall the racist caricatures widespread in popular family programmes of the early-mid-20th century and beyond. As well as marking a technical shift from the artist’s tapestry pieces, the tuftings have a distinctly different visual style. In them, Wood adopts a naïve aesthetic that calls on the nostalgia of cartoon animations and their association with racial stereotyping to unpack notions of Black girlhood. Despite their formal simplicity, the tuftings reveal a lurking tension drawn from the artist’s own experiences of consuming media rife with anti-Black prejudice throughout her life. Where the tapestries are absorbed in consumption and cyber culture, the tuftings speak to inherited trauma and necessarily implicate accountability in the viewer.

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