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Fatimah Tuggar's ink-jet on vinyl prints fashion alternate vistas at the University of Delaware
Fatimah Tuggar, Voguish Vista, 2012. Computer montage; inkjet on vinyl, 50 x 72 in.© Fatimah Tuggar, BintaZarah Studios.

By: Julie L. McGee

NEWARK, DE.- In/Visible Seams brings together a selection of works by artist Fatimah Tuggar, best known for her large-scale ink-jet on vinyl prints, assemblages and video collages. Developed through processes that include photography, image capture, cut and paste, superimposition, and digital manipulation, Tuggar’s work offers distinct combinations of wit and irony, compassion and critique. Showcasing the artist’s beguiling, often unsettled temporal, spatial, and geographic conjunctions, Fatimah Tuggar: In/Visible Seams includes eighteen computer montages from 1995 to 2012, her renowned video collage, Fusion Cuisine (2000), and the assemblage Tum Tum & Tabarma (1998).

Sourcing a global range of imagery, including her own photographs, and mining archival as well as contemporary media, Tuggar’s fusion images and videos are not fictions per se but rather surreal combines of diverse realities made starker by their juxtaposition. “Borrowing from the realms of advertising, popular entertainment, folklore, and the experiential, I use technology as medium, subject and metaphor,” notes the artist, aiming “to produce artworks that engage how we adapt, modify and are modified by, the implements and systems that define our environments.”1

In Fusion Cuisine, post-WWII American commercials promoting new, automated kitchen appliances and in-home designs are intermixed with contemporary footage from northern Nigeria of women carrying out various domestic tasks. This video collage of moving images, sound and animation invites viewers to question whether Western prosperity, industrial design and invention have in fact advanced women’s emancipation. Perceptual and visual disjunctures likewise trouble the surface of Cake People, a computer montage from 2001. While viewing ostensibly a life-size “snap” of a teenager celebrating her sixteenth birthday, we are drawn into and trapped by the associative values assigned to “tradition,” “modern,” “Western,” and “African” embedded in Tuggar’s cakes and cake pan.

Collage and montage strike beyond surface representation; what appears to be visual incongruity is more acutely the byproduct of social, historical, racial and gendered constructions. Economies of seeing and visual tropes of place, nation, gender, and ethnicity all play a role as Tuggar strives to “challenge the segregated borders of aesthetic and cultural perceptions and to facilitate diverse ways of knowing and making.”2

Tuggar has long been interested in the potential of modification, the reuse of one thing for another: in much of her early work, she endeavored to reposition the image of the black female through a process of re- and de-familiarization, challenging dogmas and preconceived notions of Africa and black women in both the private and public spheres. This strategy of deconstructing aspects of the image to challenge conventional perceptions and attachments to static ways of looking remains seminal to her work. Her evocation of seemingly irreconcilable “realities” has been compared with work by early twentieth-century Dada and Surrealist artists as well as post-war British pop artists—Richard Hamilton of the Independent Group, in particular; Tuggar herself acknowledges an early attraction to the often loaded and politically contentious photomontages by the German artist John Heartfield (1891-1968). In/Visible Seams draws attention to her use of overlapping visual codes and their manufactured and fractured meanings as the artist deconstructs their authoritative place in representational significance.

Created for the Harlem Postcards project of the Studio Museum in Harlem, Voguish Vista (2012) is a composite image, incorporating photographs taken by Tuggar in Harlem and other found imagery. The merging of American Apparel, a global retailer, and Daisy Fashion Design, a local merchant that “brings African design to NYC,” challenges interpretations of location and fashion as reliable signifiers. Overlaying the storefront window, visible as though a reflection, is an image capturing the Occupy Wall Street movement. Harbingers of the reflected slogan, “the 99% will not be silenced,” the five female figures in Voguish Vista serve as standard-bearers of fashion and global interdependency—one wears an “African” print dress patterned with a portrait of Barack Obama and the American flag.

Visually alluring and content-rich, Tuggar’s images encourage multiple readings, offering, in the artist’s words, the “chance to retell history and restructure hegemonic conditions” as well as to invite conversations about the make-up and process of image construction.3 Ultimately, the reorientation of perception, visual and otherwise, is what Tuggar’s art asks each viewer to undertake.

Born in 1967 in Kaduna, Nigeria, Fatimah Tuggar attended the Blackheath School of Art in London, received her BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and her MFA from Yale University. She is a graduate of the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, and currently on the faculty of the University of Memphis. Among Tuggar’s honors are the Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, 2002; the Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship, awarded by the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, 2008; and grants from the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, New York, 1999. Her work has been exhibited widely in over twenty-five countries, most recently in the USA in The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society, Rutgers University, 2012; The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, 2010 and On-Screen: Global Intimacy, Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2009.

1 Artist’s statement, 2012.
2 Fatimah Tuggar interview with Julie L. McGee, November 2012.
3 Fatimah Tuggar interview with Julie L. McGee, November 2012.

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