BARRON CLAIBORNE + TIM OKAMURA
June 18 - July 14, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 18, 6-8pm
Photographer Barron Claiborne and painter Tim Okamura challenge Eurocentric mythology in the celebration of black womanhood that is their two-man show “Goddess.” Through portraits that juxtapose the religious symbols of antiquity with modern iconography, Claiborne and Okamura syncretize the visual languages of western portraiture, the Abrahamic religions, and urban America to create layered conversations about the intersection of identities and contemporary geopolitics. They highlight the often overlooked beauty both in black women’s physical appearances and in the interplay of seemingly contradictory characteristics in all humans. Contrary to the Renaissance-born classical tradition that tend to include black women in portraits as possessions, like books and globes, to show the sitter's economic status, Claiborne and Okamura's work make black women's agency and personhood the focus.
Claiborne began photographing the women in his “Saints” series in 1999. Shot on 8 x 10 Polaroid film, the subjects are either draped in rich cloths like relics of dynasties past or partially nude, they peer directly into the camera with hints of vulnerability and derision in their eyes, often clutching crosses, guns, or each other’s hands. Okamura superimposes the figure of the black woman atop layers of graffiti writing, noting the variances in temporality of the two forms of narrative preservation, the static nature of the portrait and the ever-evolving dialogue of street art. “Goddess” questions the gendering and racialization of the divine in the Western tradition, placing the black women at the center of a new mythology as both creator and steward.