In concurrent shows at The Southern, Juan Logan and Tonya Gregg use distinct approaches to upend notions of black identity. Logan’s show, titled “Fatal Links,” examines the riddle of American blackness as it has developed from the transatlantic slave trade to today. More specifically, he argues that blackness ultimately gives definition to all other features of modern American identity.
In Elegy I, Elegy II, and Elegy III, all 2017, Logan draws this fatal link with a combination of acrylic paint, glitter, puzzle pieces, and olefin on canvas. The disembodied, featureless black heads present throughout his work become enigmatic symbols of their race, reflecting both the light and the viewer’s racial projections with their inscrutable dark shimmer. While Logan’s work is abstract, viewers can recognize a journey in the “Elegy” suite: the prow of a ship, a sea of water, a middle passage. In Elegy I, the heads appear to have reached a new shore—their backdrop the red and white stripes of the American flag—but they are confined in a grid-like pattern, effectively held in mass incarceration. Radical, indeed: Logan’s work demonstrates how without blackness as a frame, there’s just negative, white space.
In “After Midnight in the Dynasty,” Gregg takes another route, choosing to subvert how we think about race through detailed images of black women sitting, lounging, and dreaming in surreal landscapes. By situating her subjects in surrealist fantasy-scapes, complete with floating Afro-ed fairies, she casts them in new light, reminding viewers how seldom they see black women depicted in repose, in scenes at once romantic and banal. They are rendered in the style of drawings for Japanese manga; big eyes and curved lines make her subjects soft and dreamy. They become, in fact, not so much symbols of black womanhood, but simply fanciful individuals.— Chase Quinn, Artforum