In Broad Daylight, Tavares Strachan’s first exhibition with the gallery, marks the second part of a trilogy by the New York-based artist and opens concomitantly with the finale, In Total Darkness, at Galerie Marian Goodman on October 15, 2022.
“In broad daylight” is a phrase that speaks to the brazen-ness of an offence. To commit a criminal act in prime time, when it can be fully seen and witnessed, often confounds and produces an adamant disbelief. Strachan’s proclivity for playing with double meaning is reflected in the exhibition’s title through his interpretation of the phrase as a revelation of fundamental truths; a nod to an old wives’ tale, “sunlight being the best medicine.” In this exhibition, Strachan explores this duality through a new series of life-size sculptures based on the theme of the Madonna and Child.
“One of the things that the history of religious storytelling has done very well is to take beauty and tragedy and smash them together. This is what I am trying to do with this series of sculptures.”
Each of Strachan’s mother figures, ostensibly Black Madonnas, holds up her violently quieted son; the poses in and of themselves poignant, suggesting through their gestures various approaches to the egregious circumstances of losing a child. They articulate genres of staying power and fortitude in the unfortunate yet likely event that some other Black mother might be called to a similar duty, to diffuse and negotiate civic anger while managing personal heartache. Alice Nokuzola “Mamcethe” Biko stands with poetic grace, determined to keep upright the sagging body of her son, Bantu Stephen Biko. Kadiatou Diallo, the mother of Amadou Diallo, is confidently seated, even poised, as her son is seemingly at rest in her lap. Rounding out Strachan’s sculptural triptych, made from the same Carrara marble as that used by Michelangelo, is Louise Little, in a meditative, devotional stance, eyes slightly downcast and palms up, with her son, Malcolm X, strewn across her legs.
Unlike routine sculptural forms of heroes which represent a notable (often European male) subject in action or at least in command of the occasion, Strachan’s are doubly weighted in an opposing direction, 1) towards Black male figures who have a complex relation to the heroic event (with neither military nor political status); and 2) towards the Black women who bore them and who continued to bear the traumatic legacy of their lives.
The religiosity and comparability of Strachan’s Black Madonnas to the Pieta by Michelangelo is apparent. Like this iconic piece, they read as funeral monuments, and both formally and thematically they allude to Mary cradling the body of Jesus. Given that the African origins of the Black Madonna are due further investigation and that the role of the Black Madonna as “an important female spiritual figure is under-acknowledged,” Strachan’s work, along with that of other contemporary artists who query the phenomenon, significantly shifts the focus away from a singularly exceptional woman or a sacred case (1). In effect the series of three implicates the tragic potential for a more expanded list; especially given Strachan’s play at maximizing the impact of minoritized persons and histories by making a momentous display of their accrued value in the unremitting Encyclopedia of Invisibility which he initiated in the early 2010s.
This project also amplifies the bigness of things. The larger-than-life sculptures hint to the artist’s ongoing interest in the celestial and the vastness or enormity of existence, beyond what we can know, see, touch, or feel. Strachan, who by his account became intrigued by religion as early as 12 years old when he self-initiated visits to various churches in the Bahamas, founded in 2008 the Bahamas Aerospace and Sea Exploration Center (B.A.S.E.C.), which has been noted for its intersecting of art and science, but also couches his spiritual sensibility. Not surprisingly, given the theme of In Broad Daylight, there is a socially inflected component of B.A.S.E.C. that revolves around his mother Ella Strachan’s expertise as a seamstress. Through both B.A.S.E.C. and In Broad Daylight Strachan endeavors a response to one of the resonating questions of the past 50 years which centers upon the intellect and creativity of the Black and minoritized mother.
It was asked by Alice Walker in her groundbreaking 1972 essay, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” She writes, “What did it mean for a Black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time? In our great grandmothers’ day? It is an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.” (2) Strachan’s collaboration with his mother coupled with his insistence on rendering heroic versions of not just Malcolm X, Bantu Stephen Biko, and Amadou Diallo, but also their mothers; making monuments to them as well as to their noted sons, might be interpreted as a response to Walker’s question by a Black artist who knows and appreciates how his creative acumen and his mother’s intertwine. “I am a reflection of my mother’s secret poetry as well as of her hidden angers,” writes the poet Audre Lorde (3). In Broad Daylight asks the audience to consider the lives of these men through the quieted, but stalwart, agencies (creative, intellectual, nurturing, tactical) of their mothers, all common enough Black women, who had to manage the anger and secrets that evolve from the societal limits that have historically predetermined that position.
— Romi Crawford
(1) Michello, Janet. The Black Madonna: A Theoretical Framework for the African Origins of Other World Religious Beliefs. Religions 11, no10 (October 10, 2020): 511, p. 8. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11100511.
(2) Mitchell, Angelyn, ed. Within the Circle: An Anthology of African American Literary Criticism from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), p. 402.
(3) Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. (Editions Trois, 2002).
(4) Michello, Janet. The Black Madonna: A Theoretical Framework for the African Origins of Other World Religious Beliefs. Religions 11, no 10 (October 10, 2020): 511, p. 10. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11100511.
Born in 1979 in Nassau, Bahamas
Lives and works between New York, USA and Nassau, Bahamas
Tavares Strachan holds a BFA in Glass (2003) from Rhode Island School of Design and a MFA in Sculpture (2006) from Yale University. He divides his time between New York, where his studio is based, and Nassau, where he has established art studio and scientific research platform B.A.S.E.C. (Bahamas Aerospace and Sea Exploration Center) and OKU, a not-for-profit community project encompassing an artist residency and exhibition spaces, a scholarship scheme, and after-school creative programs.
Strachan was a Getty Research Institute artist-in-residence scholar (2019–2020), the Allen Institute’s inaugural artist-in-residence (2018), and a MIT artist-in-residence (2009–2010). He is a recipient of the LACMA Art + Technology Lab Grant (2014). In 2018, he was awarded the Frontier Art Prize and, in 2022, the renowned MacArthur Fellowship.
He has been commissioned to create monumental site-responsive works of public art for institutions and outdoor sites across the United States including the Baltimore Museum of Art, Barclays Center in New York, Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Coachella Valley in California, and the Mississippi River.
His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions including Polar Eclipse, The 1st Bahamas National Pavilion in The 55th Venice Biennale (2013), Italy; You Can Do Whatever You Like (The Orthostatic Tolerance Project) (2009) at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Orthostatic Tolerance: It Might Not Be Such a Bad Idea if I Never Went Home Again (2010) at the MIT List Visual Art Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; and Always, Sometimes, Never (2018) at Frye Art Museum in Seattle, USA.
Strachan’s work has been featured in institutional group exhibitions including Meanwhile... Suddenly, And Then, The 12th Lyon Biennale (2013) in France; May You Live in Interesting Times, The 58th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition (2019) in Italy; Soft Power: A Conversation for the Future (2019) at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA; The Willfulness of Objects(2020) at The Bass, Miami, USA; Feeling the Stones, The 1st Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale (2021) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Flesh and Bones: The Art of Anatomy (2022) at Getty Center, Los Angeles, USA.