February 15 – April 15, 2021
sepiaEYE is thrilled to present Thrall (2017-2020), a solo online exhibition by Qiana Mestrich. By integrating the outdoor studio, staged portraiture, still life, and family photography, Mestrich externalizes her thoughts around recent political, social, and cultural discussions on white supremacy and Black consciousness.
“I was inspired to create this work during a visit to a museum with my children, when we encountered a towering statue of Pandora in front of a large window. In Greek mythology, Pandora is the first woman created by the gods and this sculpture (made in 1871 by Chauncey Bradley Ives) depicts her in the act of opening the box/jar containing humanity’s evils.
Despite her divine origin and childlike curiosity, Pandora’s misfortune is allegorically and literally giving birth to civilization’s “dark” tendencies. Pandora’s marmoreal overbearance inspired me to create photographs that reflect the enforcement of classical ideals of beauty and the production of a normality of whiteness regularly on display in our art institutions. . . With Thrall, I endorse the Black Mother’s role as Creator, Author and Photographer. She is no longer hidden as a prop or forced labor. She is superhuman and in control of the image, utilizing the home and immediate environment as her studio.” – Qiana Mestrich
Some images in Thrall allude to whiteness as a blanketing, nearly invisible pressure. The first four photographs in this series reflect this obscurity– as if the viewer is peering into a foggy space, looking through a window but not seeing the entire picture or object underneath. Once the mist has cleared, Mestrich refuses the standard visual representations of mother and child. She does not appear in the photographs nor does she record the events of her home life. Collaborating with her children, she allows them to dance, be unruly, wondrous and curious in Nature. Her compassionate, protective role as Mother or Creator, mirrors her own upbringing and awareness of the world as a Buddhist.
“I do not depict myself with my children, nor am I willing to represent or perform trauma which further perpetuates the camera’s early use and abuse of power as a colonial instrument. Moving towards an understanding and acceptance of all things natural, I also seek to (re)discover a Black relationship to the outdoors, without fear.”
Furthering this exploration of the outdoors, Mestrich incorporates weed plants as ornamentation in the series, challenging their subjective classification as “invasive” or not worthy of admiration. “How has nature itself been regulated through the cultivation of plants for the production of capitalism, namely the colonial realms of the plantation and traditional horticulture (or the garden),” states Mestrich.
In Thrall, she employs photographic elements like shadow and the inverted silhouette as additional characters in her visual narrative. Branches and leaves that were saved and used to hide faces, the silhouette of these branches were then ghostly transferred to brown paper or are obscured by a white scrim. We then see arms and eyes break through or peek through the brown paper. The use of these elements as simultaneous metaphors for canvas or shield, in tandem with an array of dried and collected chicken wishbones, lead the viewer to make connections between the ideas of “traditional” portraiture and of hope and wishes in an uncertain future.
“I frame a poly-consciousness shaped by my own experiences around identity as a first-generation American, Black, mixed-race woman. I want to question the powers that make dominant narratives legitimate.”
The Thrall series will open at the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt in Germany as part of Triennial RAY Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/RheinMain from 3 June to 12 September, 2021 and is dedicated to the topic of IDEOLOGIES.
Mestrich’s artist talk/conversation March 23, 2021 at 7pm EST with an artist/curator Liz Ikiriko and scholar/healer/curator Negarra A. Kudumu.
So what we will talk about? In addition to seeing work from the artist’s latest series, they’ll also “riff on Black Mother creator vibes, subverting light/dark conventions and wishbones.” That’s a direct quote from Liz Ikiriko! If you can attend, register via Zoom here.
To see the exhibition, please to go the direct link.