Devan Shimoyama: ‘Elegies’ investigates the presence—and absence—of the Black body

July 13, 2022, DOCUMENT, July 13, 2022



Curated by Monique Long and held at the Museum of the African Diaspora, the exhibition features an international roster of artists who have expanded the meaning of still life

In an effort to subvert the traditional presentation of still lifes, independent curator and writer Monique Long has curated the exhibition Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art. The show considers Blackness in relation to the question, How does an artist create work about the body without the body being present?

The show features an international roster of artists who have disrupted or broadened the scope of still life—Sadie Barnette, LaKela Brown, Elizabeth Colomba, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, David Antonio Cruz, Awol Erizku, Leslie Hewitt, Yashua Klos, Deana Lawson, Azikiwe Mohammed, Rashaad Newsome, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Devan Shimoyama, William Villalongo, Brittney Leeanne Williams. A majority of the featured artists specialize in portraiture, and in merging that practice with still life, they find unexpected ways of interpreting the show’s overarching query.

The exhibition includes a variety of mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking, performance, and installation. Brown assembles plaster, foam, acrylic, and wood to depict a variety of doorknocker molds for Doorknocker Still Life Cluster with Eleven Golds. Crosby’s Grandmother’s Parlour blends acrylic, photographic transfers, and colored pencil to capture a scene at the intersection of family, home, and religion. Carefully With CAREFULLY, Klos employs woodblock prints and graphite to depict a hand holding a cobalt blue hibiscus flower. Each piece in the exhibition addresses both of the show’s thematic parallel narratives: the historical analysis of still lifes, and how that history intersects with Black figuration.


Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art is on view at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco through August 21. Following this, it will be on view at the Telfair Museum in Savannah beginning September 10.

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