Kavi Gupta: The Best Shows to See in Chicago Right Now

Lisa Yin Zhang, FRIEZE, April 13, 2023


On the occasion of EXPO CHICAGO, here's what not to miss across the city right now


Neither of the two solo exhibitions currently showing at Kavi Gupta should be missed. Through her mixed-media sculptural works, Esmaa Mohamoud examines what she dubs ‘Black body politics’, or the interrelated personal, socio-economic and historical factors that shape the category of Blackness from both within and outside the identity. A Seat Above the Table (Angela Bassett) (2019), a 12-foot tall rattan chair, references both the titular actress and the Black Panther Huey P. Newton, who was photographed in such a seat. The work escapes the easy connotations of a domestic American symbolic vocabulary, however: the original peacock chairs were woven by prisoners in the colonized Philippines.


Allana Clarke, meanwhile, continues her signature usage of Salon Pro 30 Sec. Super Hair Bond Glue, a product used to attach hair extensions or wigs to the scalp. To make the works on view, Clarke empties thousands of bottles of the glue over mesh, then manipulates the gradually-hardening material into sculptural shapes, as if wrestling with congealed ideas of Blackness. In I Feel Everything (2023), the material has been pulled to more than six feet across; rippling, bunched, black, glossy and almost delectable, it is offset with ragged edges and gaping holes.


Don’t miss the last days of ‘Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s–Today’, a group exhibition of 37 artists. Here, the ‘Caribbean’ is conceptualized not as place, but by movement: of people, voluntarily and forced; of capital, of weather systems. In Teresita Fernández’s Rising (Lynched Land) (2020), for instance, a palm tree – a plant not indigenous to the Caribbean, despite its close associations with its tropical locale – is painfully bound and suspended from the ceiling, invoking the violence associated with colonialism and environmental plunder. 


Salone-style hang of a bunch of artworks: hot pink and yellow paint over maps, documents, etc.


Firelei Báez contributes more than 80 individual works that together make up the soft afternoon air as you hold us all in a single death (To breathe full and Free: a declaration, a re-visioning, a correction) (2021). Telling the story of queen of Haiti Marie-Louise Coidavid, who was exiled to Pisa, Italy, in 1831, the work reads an individual displacement in context with other Black diasporic histories and tales of folklore, pulling in images of plants, maps and figures from Dominican and Nigerian mythology.


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