We are pleased to present Come Out the Wilderness, a solo show by our summer artist in residence Whit Harris.
Titled after the James Baldwin short story about a Black woman's struggle for love, happiness and agency, Come Out the Wilderness is inspired by the figures of Matisse's Le Bonheur de Vivre. Harris renders her imaginary women, or "femmes", in naturalistic, detailed clay figurines, as they pose and interact with one another in uninhibited sensuality. They become models for unbridled agency, and offer a narrative juxtaposition to the constrained realities of the Black women mirrored in Baldwin's writing.
The figures are staged within an imaginary pleasure garden where they find freedom in intimacy and vulnerability, signified by their nudity and sometimes closed eyes. The colors in the show -moody blues, purples and pinks- were inspired by moments the artist spent watching the sunset in New York pleasure gardens such as the Prospect Park peninsula and Hudson River Park piers
These sculptures are accompanied by a mural that recreates Matisse’s Le Bonheur de Vivre sans the figures, which are instead represented by the ceramic works. Two charcoal self portraits depicting Black leisure are presented on the opposite wall and on the mural.
Baldwin famously migrated to France to escape the racial oppression he experienced in the US. Matisse, a French native, made paintings that project the fantasies of white imagination and suggest an enticing but illusory utopia. This disparity between white imagination and Black reality is represented by the charcoal drawings’ stark contrast against the colorful backdrop of the mural, suggesting Black interiority as refuge from white exteriority, and highlighting Black leisure as a liberatory practice.
Text by Whit Harris