‘GAP: Crossing Borders U.S.A’
by Katie Korotzer
August 31, 2020
In a powerful show opening September 5 at the Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery/JPG@The Bank in Lafayette, CA, artist and curator Carl Heyward presents the work of over 30 international artists affiliated with the Global Art Project who have something to say on the idea of crossing borders.
The Global Art Project is a worldwide network of artists committed to freedom of expression, the principles of equality and shared experiences despite boundaries. Since its beginning in 2011, GAP has looked at hard issues of race, injustice and our relationship to created borders. Heyward, one of 5 original founders of GAP, feels that now in the time of the Covid Pandemic, the show which has been planned for over a year, is even more relevant.
According to gallery owner Jennifer Perlmutter, the work in this show, ‘GAP: Crossing Borders U.S.A.’ sets itself apart from Bay Area figurative with mixed media collage and conceptual work that includes textile, video, abstract, photography and installation. Perlmutter states that ‘GAP and Carl Heyward represent the most diverse group of artists in the Bay Area’, and in it’s goal to be a platform for local arts organizations and artists, believes that more space ought to be given to underrepresented groups.
The artists in the show are from 17 countries including several from the Bay Area and other places in the United States. Heyward worked with his Dutch counterpart, curator and artist Ron Weijers, to bring this show to the U.S. after the show debuted in August 2019 in a 14th Century Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium.
In its U.S. opening, Heyward, an American artist based in Benicia, CA, has curated the work for ‘GAP Crossing Borders’ with the intention of reflecting on the role of migration as interpreted by art.
With a potent combination of mindful awareness, appetite for connection and seemingly near limitless energy, Heyward is master of what he calls the “Incandescent NOW”, as illustrated by his non-stop rotation of curating and organizing shows for GAP and at Gallerie Renee Marie in Benicia, CA, in addition to teaching workshops and in his own studio practice. Heyward constantly encourages collaboration between artists in order to increase creative discovery and to share ideas with the public.
Both ‘GAP: Crossing Borders U.S.A.’ and another recent show curated by Heyward, ‘Obilterants and Other Brush Strokes’ at Gallerie Renee Marie (through October 31, 2020), have been on the calendar for at least a year; both shows were conceived with themes centered around the political times. But the Covid Pandemic and its evolving fallout have cast a strangely prescient, and rueful mood over both exhibitions, and Heyward has made appropriate curatorial decisions in response. Both shows deal with barriers: with their limitations, the ways around them and the power plays associated with them. These concepts are fully explored in the work of ‘GAP: Crossing Borders’.
The main question posed by ‘GAP: Crossing Borders U.S.A.’ is “what barriers are you willing to cross?”. In their work, the artists’ responses range from how barriers shape and control us, to the idea of the ‘other’ and to adaptation. The work in the show is advanced and metaphorical; yet accessible to the viewer in its emotional range. A real strength of the show, and a reflection of Heyward’s curatorial talent, is that within the poignant subject matter, there is room for lightness and humor. For example, the multi-media work of Ghanian artist Patrick Tagoe-Turkson which incorporates the use of floating flip-flop debris found on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, into lively cobalt blue and white weavings, and the ambiguous beauty of the installations by U.S. artist Francis Beaty, ‘Lift Off’ and ‘On the Mend’ composed with Tyvek and temporary fencing material, respectively.
Yet the arc of ‘Crossing Borders’ leans towards a warning by artists for those who would ignore the implications of political and social barriers. The work of Syporca Whandal of Hungary, ‘Arrogance of the System’, Ana Gabino of Mexico, ‘Loto 2018’ and Nadi Adatepe of Norway, ‘Jesus as Refugee’ particularly strike the viewer in this way.
In what has been the key to curating both ‘Obliterants’ and ‘GAP: Crossing Borders U.S.A.’, Heyward’s approach has been to let the work speak for itself. As he sees it, the key concern for the times has been how visual content can resonate with the general sense of distortion and decay in terms of decisions about what is important. As Heyward puts it, ‘what plans might we make? what voices need censoring, what needs to be truly heard? We do not know’. Heyward’s curatorial solution is to find the rhythm of sequences and relationships between works by paying attention to both the visual content and the actual visual appearance and placement of the works. In this way, the viewer is free to explore groupings, making observations and associations of their own, without the burden of editing out a received voice or directive.
Heyward, who is Black, is first and foremost an artist, and his work is represented in both shows. His two mixed media pieces in ‘Obliterants’, both entitled ‘Tribal War’, (10″ x10″ mixed media on paper) make elegant note of white supremacist atrocities committed against Native Americans during the founding of the United States. In line with Heyward’s observation that our world is lacking in ‘serenity, acceptance, mourning, patience and admittedly, love’; Heyward feels that we are at a loss as to how to summon these qualities in the face of a racist, misogynistic, fear-based culture. Compassion, a key characteristic of the emotional resonance of Heyward’s artwork, may be the answer; yet Heyward describes himself as living by a philosophy of fundamental freedom that does not rely upon law, lies or the lives and permissions of others. Essentially, the important thing is to do what one can in a lifetime to enact change without becoming a victim.
And broadly speaking, this approach of Heyward’s has provided the central motivation for the creation of GAP and is expressed visually through the artwork done by the men and women of GAP.
Both ‘GAP: Crossing Borders U.S.A.’ at Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery/JPG@The Bank in Lafayette, CA and ‘Obliterants And Other Brush Strokes’ in Benicia, CA can be seen in person by appointment for a socially distanced visit or by 3-D Virtual Tours. Heyward will be hosting weekly Instagram interviews with GAP members about the current political climate in a show called ‘Take a Breath’
Whether virtually or in person, viewers should not miss the opportunity to experience these collections of insightful work by local and international artists.