Another Way of Looking: Influences from Islam
main gallery: May 21 to June 26, 2010
Andrew Ellis Johnson, Black & White, 2006, DVD loop, (screen captures)
Andrew Ellis Johnson
Black & White is video loop of a woman gazing into the camera lens while donning a scarf in different styles and colors. It calls forth our associations and assumptions regarding fashion and identity as both secular and religious expression.
The veil has a history in major religions of the world, a history complicated by conflicting purposes and rationales. Alternately considered demeaning and dignifying, confining and liberating, the veil becomes a screen for our own projections. It has indicated a woman's self-respect and social status. It has also been seen as dehumanizing, conferring servitude and discomfort.
The veil in Islam is an extension and continuation of coverings shared in prophetic and non-prophetic religions alike. Most often assumed or imposed as a garment of modesty, it conveys other meanings. Judaism saw it as a mark of luxury and distinction among noble married women. Christianity treated it as a sign of a woman’s subjection to male authority. As suggested by passages from the Quran, Islam urges modesty, but makes its strongest claim for the veil as protection.
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty......And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms...." (Quran 24:30,31).
"O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested" (Quran 33:59).
Nevertheless, Islamic veils in all their varieties, have been made to be exceptional. This exception frequently fabricates fear, separation, and barriers to be upheld or banished and precludes greater historical, political, social and religious understanding of common traditions.
The palette, gestures and intimate sounds of Black & White expose polarization, over simplification and clearly defined positions as inadequate descriptors. The action prompts reflection, as does a mirror, to look back, peer in, appraise and re-examine appearance. The image scrutinizes, tries on, reveals, sheds and reconfigures its makeup. The location is distinctly undefined, familiar and nowhere but here.
Andrew Ellis Johnson’s exhibition topics have ranged from the apocalypse to animal nature and disasters of war to the culture of class. Venues for his work have included museums, galleries, electronic arts and video festivals, public collaborations, conferences, books and journals in North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He is co-founder of the socially engaged collective, PED that has performed in Buffalo, Belfast, Chongqing, Rio de Janeiro, St. John’s and Tonawanda. Johnson received his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA at Carnegie Mellon where he is Associate Professor of Art.