Lehmann Maupin, 201 Chrystie Street, New York
by Mira Dayal
The concept of possession is first interrogated at Lehman Maupin in an imperfect grid of 26 found images, assembled by Kader Attia. It takes a few close readings to realize why the depicted bodies feel fragmented: all are amputees, at work and at play, where their tools and instruments are just as important as their bodies to the visual cohesion of an action. In one image, for example, a person with a machine-like metal arm uses their other limb made of flesh to help chisel a piece of charred wood. The chisel itself seems to merge with the metal limb, so that man and tool come together as a cyborg. In another, a little girl not more than seven years old holds a comb to her head. With her other mechanical limb she holds a mirror into which she gazes expectantly. But "she holds" seems a problematic construction—where does her body end, and where does the object begin? Is the synthetic arm more hers than the mirror? If so, it is because of the duration of the limb's connection, or do we as humans simply prefer to think of all bodies as uniform? Repossession expands upon these questions to contemplate how human histories of queer, black, and disabled bodies may be framed, lifted, and restructured.
Of course, the longer one stays with these photos, the more entangled such conjectures become. Though that metal limb may not easily seem "hers," the electronic limb worn by another man who activates it through "motion sensors and electric signals from the skin" might be. Instead of artificial constructions designed to obscure the fact that these bodies are not uniform, prosthetic limbs could be tools with which amputees reclaim their bodies. The very idea of a prosthetic could be expanded to include cell phones, often virtually attached to the hand, or performance-enhancing drugs, invisible when consumed but clearly thought of as external aid to the body.
The longer one stays with these photos, the more one also becomes entangled with the subjects themselves. In the photo of the man with the electronic limb, the uncomfortable scrutiny by two men (presumably surgeons or scientists) of the armless "Seattle victim" reflects the viewer's gaze onto these apparently enhanced bodies. En masse, these photos seem to present a case study, dangerously distancing the subjects from the viewer. Most disturbing in this sense is the central image, a motion study by Eadweard Muybridge in which a young boy without legs moves from floor to seat and back down. It is titled, "Animal Locomotion Plate 538." Humans are, of course, also animals, but removed from the context of Muybridge's other plates, this shift in identification seems to demean the subject.
A nearby work by Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Darkwater III (after W.E.B. Du Bois) (2013), takes up this question of the relative valuation of bodies. In the work, a series of pages from W.E.B. Du Bois's text, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, are partially obscured from the bottom up with furnace black watercolor and gold acrylic. One quote left unobscured stands out in particular: "Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody's slavery. They do not want equality because the thrill of their happiness comes from having things that others have not." The medium of the book and its pages is particularly important here, as it suggests that "equality" may be constructed not only through law and social codes, but also through language.
Such linguistic oppression is forcefully examined in Kader Attia's collages on cardboard in the next room, Modern Architecture Genealogy (2014). Most depict men in drag alongside text, cut papers, and photos of architectural ruins, monuments, or other women. One in particular juxtaposes jagged fragments of a photocopied Arabic book with several people who appear to be women. Though most of the text would have been unreadable to a non-Arabic speaker, some words in English were inserted in parentheses into the text, indicating that no words in the original language could properly convey the same meaning: "(Transgenders)... (cis genders)... (queers)... (Sodomite)... (Mandrake)... (Tribads)... (Shamanism)." These people and concepts are presumably linguistically excluded or nonexistent in Arabic.
Tim Rollins and K.O.S. visually interrupt histories of erasure with their larger paintings in this gallery, including I see the promised land (after the Rev. Dr. M. L. King, Jr.) (2008) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - On the Raft (after Mark Twain) (2011). Again composed initially with a grid of book pages, the works both draw on their eponymous texts. The latter image was first painted with a layer of matte white acrylic so that the text is not completely readable. Still, one can see upon close inspection that there are several crosshatched line drawings illustrating the text, and that many of the illustrations' captions seem to reference Jim, the black slave in the novel whose depiction has led many to accuse Twain of racism. One such illustration has been recreated in a similar style in blue acrylic to cover the whole canvas. A small gap in the crosshatching leaves visible the referenced page, where the illustration's caption is "On the Raft." What appears from up close to be a vignette on the canvas—a formal device designed to reveal some of the text on the book's pages—reveals itself from afar to be another form of erasure, this time of the white boy who sits on the raft in the original illustration. He has now been left as a blank void, framing or swallowing the original text. The standing black man now paddles not for him (the boy) but for himself. Like Attia, then, Rollins and K.O.S. visually illustrate how apparently formal devices (language, composition) can also be forms of violence.
The most haunting testament to the pain of erasure comes from Mickalene Thomas in her eight-channel video work, Angelitos Negros (2016), presented on four screens that may be divided. The original lyrics for the video came from Angelitos Negros [Little Black Angels], a 1948 film about racism, in which actor Mexican actor Pedro Infante sings to a little girl seated on his piano about the absence of black angels. Eartha Kitt, "one of the first successful black performers associated with the turn of the interest in African diasporic folk dance and music," covered the song in English in the 1960s, introducing its relevance to a new audience.  It is her rendition that the artist and two fellow singers mimic here in a layered music video, even replicating Kitt's hairstyle and black turtleneck outfit. "When I walk into a church, I only see paintings of white angels," Kitt says before she begins to sing. "Why?" Her emotional ballad is not only a call to religion to represent people fairly, but also a call to artists: "Painters, show us that you care... paint me some black angels tonight." These voices echo throughout the gallery; the surrounding works seem to answer by representing not only oppressed bodies, but also the texts, histories, and figures that have become their oppressors or champions.
 Quote from photo caption on found image.
 Du Bois, W.E.B. Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil. N.p.: Courier Corporation, 2012. 121. Print.
 Royster, Francesca T. Sounding Like a No-No: Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in the Post-soul Era. N.p.: U of Michigan, 2012. 39. Print.
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