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Artists Fashion their Global Identities at the Akron Art Museum
Works by Yinka Shonibare, MBE are included in this new exhibition that will open at the Akron Art Museum. Photo: EFE/Daniel Deme.

AKRON, OH.- What’s your Pattern ID? Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have a Pattern ID. It is revealed in the clothing we wear and the interiors with which we surround ourselves. Damask silk, Indian brocade and Burberry plaid each carry specific cultural associations. The aesthetic choices we make every day communicate subtle and not so subtle messages about who we are and where we’ve come from — our cultural identities.

Pattern ID, on view at the Akron Art Museum January 23 – May 9, 2010, calls attention to the fact that cultural identity is not so clear-cut these days.

Including painting, sculpture, photography, mixed media and video­­, this visually stunning, vibrant exhibition presents fifteen artists of diverse origins who manipulate pattern and dress to define as well as expand their cultural identities. Taking a range of approaches from humor to irony and formal beauty, these artists borrow from popular culture, world history, and art history to transform and redefine the cultural meanings of patterns.

“The artists use pattern and dress to take up the 21st century challenge of locating one’s place in society against the backdrop of globalization,” said Ellen Rudolph, the museum’s curator of exhibitions. “Many of the artists in the exhibition have migrated from one culture to another, be it national, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, political or religious. Rather than trade one identity for another, the artists in Pattern ID reveal ways in which identity can be cumulative.”

The approximately 40 works in Pattern ID include those of: Mark Bradford, (b. 1961, Los Angeles, CA); iona rozeal brown (b. 1966, Washington DC); Nick Cave (b. 1959, Jefferson City, MO); Willie Cole (b. 1955, Somerville, NJ); Lalla Essaydi (b. 1955, Morocco); Samuel Fosso (b. 1962, Cameroon); James Gobel (b. 1972, Las Vegas, NV); Brian Jungen (b. 1970, Fort St. John, British Columbia); Bharti Kher (b. 1969, London); Takashi Murakami (b. 1963, Tokyo); Grace Ndiritu (b. 1976, Birmingham, England); Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. 1962, London); Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971, Camden, NJ); Aya Uekawa (b. 1979, Tokyo); Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977, Los Angeles, CA)

The artists cross boundaries of time, place, culture and gender to interweave their histories with those of others. From headless mannequins dressed in Afro-Victorian garb to paintings made entirely of Indian bindis and hip-hop youth portrayed in the style of Japanese woodblock prints, each artist places these patterns into new contexts to offer insight into complex cultural relationships. Woven from NBA and NFL jerseys, Brian Jungen’s Blankets link the “tribal” rituals of the Swiss-Canadian/Native American artist’s own Dane-zaa Nation with behaviors of professional sports teams and their fans.

A Moroccan woman now living in the United States , Lalla Essaydi examines the repression of Arab women through her application of Islamic calligraphy to every surface in her scenes. Painstakingly applied in henna, these writings represent both male and female traditions in Islamic culture. Calligraphy is strictly a male practice, while henna designs are used and applied exclusively by women. Essaydi allows her models the unusual freedom to speak publicly through their poses and adornment.

Based on Old Master portraits, Kehinde Wiley’s paintings mix time, culture and race to recast historical figures as young black men. For each of his portraits, he invites his sitters, young black men he meets on the streets of major urban centers, to strike a pose from an art historical painting. Wiley photographs his subjects in their street clothes—hip-hop gear—and then paints them amid decorative, richly patterned backgrounds.

Mickalene Thomas addresses exoticized stereotypes of black femininity while also exploring how her women fit into the visual record of art history. Thomas looks at black female sexuality from her perspective as a gay African-American woman who formed her ideas of beauty and femininity while growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s and 1980s. Influenced by her stylish mother (a former fashion model), imagery in Jet and Ebony magazines, 1970s funk and soul music and trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas’ rhinestone-encrusted paintings unite personal experience, popular culture and art history.

Yinka Shonibare, MBE uses elaborately patterned Dutch wax printed cotton, which is manufactured in Europe but widely associated with West African culture, as the basis for his identity play. He visually manifests the links between African and European cultures by fashioning Dutch wax cotton into Victorian costumes, which he places on racially ambiguous, headless mannequins. Shonibare uses vignettes from European art and history as the basis for his sculptural installations and photographs.

Pattern ID places the complexities of cultural experience at the forefront of current artistic concerns. The artists express their personal and societal histories in vivid, tangible forms, proving pattern to be a rich tool with which to communicate. They advance a new collective aesthetic memory through their visual narratives.

Akron Art Museum | Pattern ID | Ellen Rudolph |

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