Gil Ngolé: The Midnight Walks & Sheena Rose: This Strange Land

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Gil Ngolé was born in Brazzaville, The Republic of the Congo during the postcolonial era, a social and political environment that is an important source of inspiration in his work. He received a BFA in painting and installation at Rueil-Malmaison College of Art (France), and his MFA in sculpture and sound installation at the Memphis College of Art, while developing a nomadic practice combining sound and sculpture. He has been included in exhibitions at The Musée du Mac-Val (France, 2008), Crosstown Arts Memphis (2014, 2015), Memorial Art Gallery (2014), and Tops Gallery, Memphis, TN (2015) and ArtFields, Lake City, SC (2016) where Karen Watson, director of the gallery, first encountered Ngolé’s work.

Artist Statement
Where I am from, people have developed another approach to reality: a nomadic state of consciousness after experiencing several years of forced displacement. This experience, however, is not reflected in Western media coverage or in representations of forced displacement in the Central African region. As a citizen of the Republic of the Congo and a visual and sound artist, I have chosen to deconstruct Western media representations of forced displacement in the region of Central Africa and reassemble the trajectory of a journey as many sequences – juxtaposing in one real place, several single spaces, sites that are in themselves incompatible. The process I use helps me to portray and mirror the decay of refugee belongings because of traveling through various geographical locations and weather conditions. At this level of my journey, I feel like a mediator between the viewer and the nomadic experience. The term “mediation” is used to point out that modern society has created several tools (television, the Internet, and newspapers) that allow it to mediate the experience of a situation. As a mediator I am presenting an immersive installation including drawings, a fabric sound sculpture, objects like bicycles and mixed media bundles to mediate an “out-of-time” experience to the Western viewer. I have chosen to include drawings in the show because: “I see some beauty and violence in aerial night views of a refugee camp. So I asked myself, what if those camps where built according to Kongo graphics standards instead of Western writing standards? The materials add a futuristic note to the composition, because of the fragile, weathered, opaque and reflective qualities. The (fake) mirror references the green alternatives that are used in camps and which are also symbols of the quest of a better future. The third reference of these drawings is Afro-futurism abstract language, which is an appropriate and unique way to communicate the future of refugee camps in the Central Africa region. How (and why) could people from this part of the world, living life as refugees in temporary housing, use western academics to think about concepts of space and place? What should a temporary shelter based on Kongo graphics look like? My drawings are meant to be answers of these questions, depicting the current life in the camps and visual promises of a better future.”

Ngolé’s Sumter installation will be site-specific. He will spend a week in Sumter, conducting his “Midnight Walks” around the city, collecting discarded items such as old clothing, padding and batting from furniture, empty bottles – things that he will make into bundles that resemble the belongings – hurriedly collected and secured, of people fleeing or being displaced. Ngolé will attend the opening on November 3rd and give his artist talk.

Sheena Rose is a contemporary Caribbean artist who was born and raised on the island of Barbados, which retains its importance — indeed, its centrality — in her artistic works. In 2008, Sheena graduated with a BFA degree at Barbados Community College, and in 2014, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and received her MFA in Studio Arts at the UNC-Greensboro.
Rose works in many media such as drawing, painting, performance and video installation. She has exhibited in MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art in New York, the Venice Agenda at the Turner Contemporary Gallery via Waugh Office in the U.K, the Havana Biennial one of the largest art exhibitions in the Caribbean, the Caribbean Crossroad one of the biggest exhibitions in the USA which was held in three museums The Queens Museum, El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum of Harlem. Sheena’s work has been on the covers of three books, Small Axe 43. “See Me Here,” Christopher and Roberts Publishers and in 2015, her work is on the cover of Naomi Jackson’s cover “The Star Side of Bird Hill” which received many great reviews. The cover was considered as one of the best book cover for the year 2015 from the Huffington Post Book List. Sheena Rose was the featured artist in the Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival held in Miami, and will be having solo shows locally and internationally.
Rose attended an all-girls’ high school where the information being communicated was at times contradictory and conflicting. For example, girls were told not to laugh too loudly, and to be “decent” when all around them women were laughing loudly and being “indecent.” She started using her drawings to figure out what this all meant and where she fit into the scheme of things. More than that, she used her artwork to challenge the conventions of the society that she grew up in. Rose notes: “I guess you could say that I love being provocative and making people uncomfortable, because I firmly believe that it is only when people are uncomfortable that you get the truth from them. So I am the person who is always pointing out the elephant in the room. Some people have said that I am too frank or too open, but what I think they are really saying is: the subject matter that you bring up is making me uncomfortable. And I am like, yes, I know, but let’s have this conversation. But that tends to frighten people.

An ongoing series that Rose has been working on that will be included in the Sumter exhibition is “Invisibles”, portraits and seemingly half finished stereoscopic paintings, with some details filled in and some left out giving the viewer only fragmented pieces of information. Another series on exhibit, “Black Obeah” references tactics of supernatural empowerment as a mode of resistance and ultimately liberation. Rose observes, “There are moments when you are quiet and you are thinking of history, race, gender and culture. I often think about these things whenever I am in the studio.”

The gallery is especially excited about Sheena Rose’s artist talk on Thursday, November 17th. Sheena will SKPE from Barbados and conduct a combination artist talk and performance. Columbia, SC filmmaker and artist, Roni Nicole Henderson will screen one of her short films that night and participate in a panel discussion with Sheena and Columbia visual and performance artist, Michaela Pilar Brown moderated by SCGA curator, Gardner Cole Miller. The dialogue – from Barbados to Sumter, SC – should be fascinating.

As with all the exhibitions the gallery presents, they are true community efforts. Gil Ngolé and Sheena Rose would not be possible without the generous support of Ralph and Toye Canty, Hill Plumbing Company, Allcaregivers, Inc. (Delores Logan), Mr. and Mrs. Ernest “Chip” Finney III and Nikky Finney and Ben Griffith and Tammy Kelly, State Farm Sumter and SCGA board members. Flowers courtesy of Jane Hammond of Bland Garden Club and the Greater Council of Garden Clubs of Sumter.