Art in General is pleased to present From Hiz Hands, Brendan Fernandes’ first solo exhibition in New York. Often drawing on post-colonialist theory, Fernandes’ work investigates the concepts of cultural identity and authenticity. From Hiz Hands explores the dissemination of Western notions of an exotic Africa through the symbolic economy of “African” masks sold on Canal Street and on the streets outside museums in New York (the Whitney and Metropolitan, for example), and their contrasting relationship to the masks on display in the museums. The exhibition examines the objects themselves but also looks at the personal narratives of the mask sellers, drawing on the artist’s own migration from Kenya to Canada in a series of works that create a shared history of identity and origin.
Questioning the value and symbolic meaning of the provenance and determined authenticity of these masks, Fernandes began by interviewing street vendors in various locations and researching the provenance reports of similar African masks at the Metropolitan Museum’s African Artifact archives. While the museum reports give detailed accounts of the object’s trajectory in terms of who bought them and who now owns them, they rarely provide the name of the artist who created the work. Responses from the vendors were equally opaque. The Master of Buli is an exception to this case, and is the focus of the works in this exhibition. An unknown figure named by Western Historians, his work is identified solely through the recognition of a distinctive hand in the carving of the masks. In the artist’s words, “The notion of naming one insists on a hegemonic gesture that insinuates ideas of a colonial history that might possibly still exist.”
Fernandes’ research culminates with a central piece in the exhibition, an audio installation that references both documentary field recording and abstracted Dadaist sound poems. Alluding to the personal experiences of the African immigrant vendors who sell these masks, while looking at the persona and identity of the enigmatic character of the Master of Buli, this piece investigates the dilemmas and codes that language creates through ethnicity and sub-culture. In the windows of the Storefront Gallery three neon versions of African Masks from the Metropolitan hang. The pulsation of their glow mimics Morse code patterns; a non-text language blinking onto the street, as if it is a beacon for visitors. Also visible from the street is large-scale a wall text that graphically plays with such coded language. The words are similar to those referenced in the audio piece, yet the complexity of the origin and comprehension of language is altered through typography.
Born in Kenya of Indian descent, Brendan Fernandes immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. He completed the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art (2007) and earned his MFA from The University of Western Ontario (2005) and his BFA from York University in Canada (2002). He has exhibited internationally and nationally including exhibitions at The Art Gallery of Hamilton, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Andy Warhol Museum, The Art Gallery of York University, Manif d’Art: The Quebec City Biennial, The Third Guangzhou Triennial, and the Western New York Biennial through The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Fernandes has participated in numerous residency programs including The Canada Councils for the Arts International Residency in Trinidad and Tobago (2006), The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Work Space (2008) and Swing Space (2009) programs, Emerge 10 at Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, NJ (2008), the AIM Program at the Bronx Museum (2009), The New Work Residency at Harvestworks, NY (2009), and the Gyeonggi Creation Center Residency at the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Korea (2009). He held the position of Artist in Residence at The School of Visual Arts, NY, in the graduate program for computer arts (2008). He was recently short listed for the prestigious 2010 Sobey Art Award. Fernandes is based between Toronto and New York.
His work is represented by Diaz Contemporary, Toronto.
The New Commissions Program is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services; Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Jerome Foundation; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; Agnes Gund; and the Greenwall Foundation. Support has also been provided by Commissioners Circle leaders Toby Devan Lewis and Cher Lewis, and Commissioners Circle members Pamela Averick, Louise Phillips Forbes, Sean Johnson, Mary Lapides, Joyce Siegel, and Jeremy Steinke.
Additional support for Brendan Fernandes’ project has been made possible by Filipe Chagas, Harvest Works, and Lauren Wickware.