REVIEW: La Esquina’s “Loving After Lifetimes of All This”

The controversial cop shootings of two unarmed black men and their subsequent protests have brought racism to the forefront of everyone’s conversation’s this winter. Those marching in protest blame underlying societal racism for the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, carrying “I can’t breathe” signs in memoriam of a man suffocated by an illegal move by a NYPD officer. Pundits blame racism against whites for the criticism of police officers and recent protests, some of which were lawful and some of which turned violent.

But are these claims of equal value? Are they even merited? Charlotte Street’s curator-in-residence Danny Orendorff’s final exhibition addresses and answers these important questions in a subtle and beautiful way.

The show, Loving After Lifetimes of All This, features works by queer Japanese artist Tina Takemoto, inspired by the experience of a gay Japanese-American imprisoned in America’s Japanese incarceration camps during WWII; Afro-Caribbean artist Sonya Clark’s investigation of black entrepreneurship in the years following the abolition of slavery by whites, and Klamath/Modoc artist Natalie M. Ball’s works examining the history and reemergence of Native American customs.

Two works of Takemoto’s are featured in the show: Looking for Jiro Onuma and Gentleman’s Gaman, both of 2011. As Pushing the Flying Wheel notes, the black and white videos feature Takemoto, a woman, dressed in drag as Jiro Onuma. Using official WWII propaganda videos, music, and performance, Takemoto expresses what she imagined Onuma’s closeted life in the heavily regulated prison camps to be.

Barbershop Pole, a 2008 piece by Sonya Clark, is completely constructed out of black hair combs and roughly eight feet high. It’s an imposing piece. The spiky spirals appear to be made of nails, until one looks at the pole up close. Barbershop Pole manages to capture not only the inventiveness required of impoverished recently freed slaves, but of the outside adversary they faced with their newfound independence.

Two of Natalie M. Ball’s quilt pieces are featured at La Esquina, part of her larger series entitled “Cerca Indian.” The quilts are brightly colored and a mishmash of composition. Ball writes on her website that quilting was introduced to her people, the Modoc Native Americans, by the Sioux, who learned it from European settlers. The quilts represent the impact each group has had on the culture of her people, but presents both conflict and peace as part of one stitched-together whole.

It is not so much the pieces that tie together Orendorff’s impressive exhibition; rather the unifying themes and the timeliness of the show itself. Kansas City recently attracted national attention for the hate-killings of three people at the hands of a Neo-Nazi extremist at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center. Missouri’s ban on gay marriage was overturned in November. The Keystone pipeline is slated to be built on protected Sioux lands without their approval, and the tribe has declared they will die before allowing foreign building crews onto their sovereign territory. Apache-owned lands will be sold to a foreign mining company if Congress’ spending bill passes this week. The Ku Klux Klan threatened to shoot protestors on sight in anticipation of the decisions to try Darren Wilson and the killer of Eric Garner.

The pieces in Loving After Lifetimes of All This chronicle hardships faced by racial various groups throughout history, but each piece has a common theme: integration, love and acceptance. The artists in Orendorff’s exhibition have acknowledged history and hope for a unified society. The message while subtle, encourages the majority to accept their own role in history as well, and to move on together.

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