Over the last few years Bay Area video artist lauren woods has consistently returned to the subject of Africa, creating numerous pieces that vividly document her cultural investigations. This still growing body of work, entitled The AFRICA Archives, includes videos, still photographs and mixed-media works. M(other)land, on view at the University Art Gallery, UCSD, offers a glimpse into The AFRICA Archives and provides a space for viewers to sift through their own projections about a continent still primarily glimpsed through the veil of social crisis, Hollywood movies and television news.
This exhibition, curated by Los Angeles-based independent curator Lisa Henry for the University Art Gallery, marks the first time works from The AFRICA Archives have been shown together. The show focuses on the artist’s long held interest in American perspectives on Africa as they relate to identity and cultural power. woods’ project is open ended, grand in scale and often humorous as she re-edits popular films, music videos and her own footage creating a suite of works about the conundrum of Africa as the assumed homeland for generations of Americans who have never and will never travel there.
Four major works from The AFRICA Archives will be on view at the University Art Gallery. These arresting video installations integrate woods’ own original video work with 20th century popular film, re-edited and re-mixed according to her own journey of inquiry. In …all over… (After the Crucifixion (After P. Pfeiffer (After F. Bacon))), the artist probes the intersection of contemporary African identity and American rap by employing Ludacris’ 2005 video “Pimping all of the World” (purported to be the first mainstream American Hip Hop video to be shot in Africa), creating a dizzying hybrid of cultural signifiers in the gallery. In the five monitor video installation A Portrait of the African Shore, as well as in Inkblot Projective Test #1 (Darkest Africa 1936/2006) and i dream of Africa… woods questions both the stereotypes and idealized projections of the African landscape, its people and their culture.
For woods, “Africa is at once a question, a collection of political difficulties, a set of cinematic conventions and a site for the projection of racial and cultural identities by the West.” woods’ goal is not to create a definitive statement. As she says “I do not plan on answering any of these questions… or resolving my feelings about my perpetual journey in understanding the relationship between diasporic descendants of Africans and this place called the “motherland” but I have to acknowledge that this whole mania is more complex than it appears.” These works both reflect and question the quintessentially American impulse to draw on fiction and myth to make sense of individual identity in a fragmented world.
lauren woods is a conceptual artist based in the Bay Area. She received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2006. Her video work has been widely exhibited throughout the U.S. Her multidisciplinary approach often combines video, sound, installation and photography to examine popular culture, race and socio-politics. Currently woods is a Tribeca Film Institute Media Arts Fellow and is in residence at CentralTrak: The University of Texas-Dallas Artist Residency.
Her video work has been widely exhibited throughout the U.S., including the traveling exhibition Posing Beauty, curated by Deborah Willis, as well as Letters from the Left Coast…, Studio Museum in Harlem, NYC (2009) Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970 at The Contemporary Arts Museum-Houston, Houston, TX (2008), The California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Art, CA (2008), Ethno-fictives, Swarm Gallery, Oakland, CA (2006).
Lisa Henry is an independent curator based in Los Angeles. She curated Americans and Off The Grid: Photographs by Keliy Anderson Staley at the California Museum of Photography as well as Connections (2009) at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York, and the traveling exhibition Young Americans: Photographs by Sheila Pree Bright. Past exhibitions include The Grapes of Wrath: Horace Bristol’s California Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum and I’m Thinking of a Place at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. She has contributed essays to various exhibition catalogs and is a columnist for the online photography sites of En Foco and Dodge & Burn.