Depicting Humanity: NYC Exhibitions January - February 2018

Art has long been the cultural realm where artists investigate and illustrate the enigmatic landscape of the human condition. Political turmoil and social discord today make art as necessary as ever for its nuanced exploration of humanity in all of its goodness, its darkness, and even its outright ugliness. As issues of human rights and interpersonal to international conflict remain at the forefront of global conversation, one may turn to art as an outlet where complicated questions about individual and group consciousness can be considered. Here are 3 NYC gallery exhibitions in which artists confront humanity’s shortcomings and pose the potential for healing. 

Rubber Factory – 29c Ludlow Street

Rubber Factory’s current exhibition “Imagined Communities, Nationalism & Violence” runs until January 31. It features 13 artists understanding nationalism and violence through the lens of Benedict Anderson’s text “Imagined Communities,” which traces the origins of nationalism as a modern predicament. Each artist addresses the anxiety of nationalism, acknowledging how it has been historically constructed to sustain and justify violence. Hank Willis Thomas’ reflective pieces that combine civil rights, NASA, and ISIS imagery, for example, face the larger systems of slavery and the industrial-military complex to invite audiences to ask big-picture questions about the relationship between national glory and human suffering. 

 Installation view: 'Imagined Communities, Nationalism & Violence'. Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

Installation view: 'Imagined Communities, Nationalism & Violence'. Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

 Installation view: 'Imagined Communities, Nationalism & Violence'. Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

Installation view: 'Imagined Communities, Nationalism & Violence'. Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

 Myeongsoo Kim -  Olympia 1988 , 2017, brass inlaid walnut frame, clear varnished archival print mounted on CNC cut Dibond, polished brass discs mounted through Dibond. Images are sourced from artist's childhood stamps collection, 45 x 35 x 3 in (left). Jon Henry -  Untitled #25 Montgomery, AL , 2016, archival pigment print, 30x24 in (right). Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

Myeongsoo Kim - Olympia 1988, 2017, brass inlaid walnut frame, clear varnished archival print mounted on CNC cut Dibond, polished brass discs mounted through Dibond. Images are sourced from artist's childhood stamps collection, 45 x 35 x 3 in (left). Jon Henry - Untitled #25 Montgomery, AL, 2016, archival pigment print, 30x24 in (right). Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

 Hank Willis Thomas -  Come Walk In My Shoes and I Will Show You Change  (left),  His Truth Is Marching On  (right), 2016, glass, silver, and digital Print, 17 1/2 x 29 in. Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

Hank Willis Thomas - Come Walk In My Shoes and I Will Show You Change (left), His Truth Is Marching On (right), 2016, glass, silver, and digital Print, 17 1/2 x 29 in. Image courtesy Rubber Factory. 

Smack Mellon – 92 Plymouth St, Brooklyn

From January 13 to February 25, two solo exhibitions are on show at Smack Mellon, both concerned with the possible causes and necessary responses to human destruction. Rudy Shepherd’s “Everything in the Universe is My Brother” features several series of work that constitute the artist’s “ongoing investigation into the nature of evil.” Portraits of criminals hang alongside those of victims, urging viewers to reflect on individual stories so often minimised by the media. Among other portrayals of moral-political human shortcoming, another cycle of paintings, “The Holy Mountain Project,” represents the artist’s hope in humanity's path toward spiritual awareness. 

Also at Smack Mellon is Theresa Ganz’s Wave Room, an immersive multimedia installation of wall-scale digitally-collaged images of ancient ruins and recent hurricane destruction. The artist’s central question is that of social responses in times of conflict, crisis and disaster, making the exhibition a space for meditation on humanity and it's capacity for cohesion and compassion. 

 Installation view of  Everything in the Universe is My Brother  by Rudy Shepherd. Image courtesy of Smack Mellon. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

Installation view of Everything in the Universe is My Brother by Rudy Shepherd. Image courtesy of Smack Mellon. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

 Install Image Information: Installation view of  Everything in the Universe is My Brother  by Rudy Shepherd. Image courtesy of Smack Mellon. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

Install Image Information: Installation view of Everything in the Universe is My Brother by Rudy Shepherd. Image courtesy of Smack Mellon. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

Aperture – 547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor

An upcoming exhibition running from February 7 to March 7 is inspired by the fact that most United States prisons and jails do not allow prisoner access to cameras. “Prison Nation” will include 14 photographers whose images approach mass incarceration by highlighting how it disproportionately affects people of color and thus becomes an issue of silencing upwards of millions of citizens. By confronting this restriction of prisoners’ voices, “Prison Nation” will ask audiences to deliberate how mass incarceration affects individuals and how it characterises a nation by how it handles social, economic, and political problems. This Aperture initiative – through the exhibit, magazine, and programming – intends to promote awareness of humanity’s shortcoming in the justice system with the ultimate aim of motivating change through the cultivation of empathy. 

 Zora J Murff -  Megan at 16 , 2014, from the series Corrections, 2013–15. Courtesy the artist.

Zora J Murff - Megan at 16, 2014, from the series Corrections, 2013–15. Courtesy the artist.

 Emily Kinni -  Untitled , Huntsville, Texas, 2017. © the artist.

Emily Kinni - Untitled, Huntsville, Texas, 2017. © the artist.

 Lucas Foglia -  Vanessa and Lauren watering , GreenHouse Program, Rikers Island jail complex, New York, 2014. © the artist and courtesy Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, New York.

Lucas Foglia - Vanessa and Lauren watering, GreenHouse Program, Rikers Island jail complex, New York, 2014. © the artist and courtesy Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, New York.

 Emily Kinni -  Untitled , Huntsville, Texas, 2017. © the artist.

Emily Kinni - Untitled, Huntsville, Texas, 2017. © the artist.

Words by Michelle Costanza