Devan Shimoyama: Tell Me now at The Contemporary Art Centre of Málaga

Art Daily , June 7, 2023



The Contemporary Art Centre of Málaga presents Tell Me, Devan Shimoyama’s first solo exhibition in Spain. Curated by Helena Juncosa and Fernando Francés, the show brings together fifteen works created from 2020 to the present day.


All these works belong to the artist’s Tarot series, in which Shimoyama reinterprets traditional tarot decks through his own queer African-American experience, translating different cards into mystical allegories of change, evolution and transformation, and dealing with themes such as sexuality, gender identity and the struggle for acceptance. In the works exhibited in Tell Me, the compositional influences of classical painting are combined with textile materials and less usual elements, typical of drag queen culture, such as glitter, rhinestones, jewellery, Swarovski crystals or sequins, in the form of a pictorial collage. This mix of materials creates a unique visual experience.

Tell Me includes work from Shimoyama’s latest series, Tarot, in which the artist reinterprets the major and minor arcana of the traditional tarot decks, whose power to tell and reveal hidden truths for the purpose of obtaining information inspires the title of the show.

The works on display are mostly self-portraits depicting tarot card characters, each with their own story and symbolic value. In his reinterpreted tarot proposal, the artist also resorts to family members such as his mother, who can be seen in the work L’Impératrice [The Empress] (2003), or his grandmother, in La Papesse [The Popess] (2003). Through these images, Shimoyama invites the viewer to look beyond the surface and explore the hidden meaning and the new readings that lie behind each exhibited piece. The show’s title, Tell Me, suggests an invitation to indulge in the experience of personal readings of these new tarot cards.

Devan Shimoyama, one of the most interesting and unique new artists on the American scene today, works in painting, drawing and installation. His production explores themes related to sexuality, race and gender identity, drawing on a wide range of references including mythology, popular culture, mass media, anime and the great classical painters. His creative process includes a large number of materials, in the manner of a pictorial collage, resulting in compositions that feature figurative and abstract elements. The characters in his paintings combine male and female aspects, defying traditional gender norms by evoking a sense of ambiguity. The artist uses fashion and decoration as tools to explore self-expression. In his own words, “The materials reflect how I think about the construction of identity, and possibly the code-switching from one era to another”.

Shimoyama’s work has previously resorted to bold depictions of the complexities of race, gender and sexuality, addressing these issues from different perspectives on previous occasions. For example, his first solo exhibition, Cry, Baby (The Andy Warhol Museum, 2018) was a metaphorical approach to the ritual of haircutting in African-American culture, in which barbershops assume the role of a “temple”. Shimoyama transforms this hypermasculine social space into a queer fantasy where feminine glamour and fashion take centre stage. In the case of the Tarot series, the artist deals with the mystical ritual of fortune telling through the reinterpretation of cards, creating new myths and legends that reflect the complexity of the African-American queer experience.

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