Shulamit Nazarian is pleased to present The Powder Room, the gallery’s second solo exhibition with Los Angeles-based artist Genevieve Gaignard. Navigating the intersections of race, gender, age, and religion, The Powder Room builds upon Gaignard’s practice of character-driven self-portraiture in photography as she introduces a new cast of women, each played by her.
Continuing the concepts embedded in her recent solo exhibition, Smell the Roses at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, Gaignard’s new body of work employs exaggeration and camp to explore social constructions that relate to her identity as a biracial woman. The Powder Room alludes to a confessional space where the artist is alone with her own image, a place to compose the self and reflect on its performance. Through this lens, Gaignard–the performer and the person–challenges notions of beauty as a tool in the construction and presentation of self.
As her subjects appear in new contexts–overgrown gardens and conspicuously manicured lawns reminiscent of filmic portrayals of the 1960s and ’70s–they lay bare the friction Gaignard faces as a mixed-race individual in a climate preoccupied with binaries. The characters are vulnerable within their bodies and to the histories embedded in their environments, yet their agency is visible in their openly oppositional gazes. In these moments of tension, Gaignard reminds viewers that she is at once artist and subject–the architect of her own image.
For this body of work, the artist embraces the affectations of drag to extend the performative nature of race and gender. Unblended contours and cracks in an otherwise smooth façade signal the labor involved in maintaining oneself under the weight of a dominant culture that is at odds with each persona.
In a series of photographs entitled The Line-Up, the artist guides us through gendered and racialized signifiers of religion. Captured in stark California sunlight against monochrome walls, Gaignard’s various characters are dressed in church attire with faces and postures eliciting emotions of triumph and mourning. Referencing aesthetic archetypes through profiles and silhouettes, Gaignard’s photographs explore the history of resilience and triumph lived by Black women. In doing so, she locates both suffering and celebration as central tenets of the Black experience, through which faith is often a vehicle of expression.
The photographs are interspersed with sculptures, including a large-scale wall installation composed entirely of hand mirrors. Positioning the hand mirror as ancestor to the selfie stick, Gaignard playfully exposes contemporary trends and attitudes as having historical precedent.
Installations are characteristic of Gaignard’s work, as the environments and the objects within them express an intimate portrayal of race and gender. “My siblings and I grew up surrounded by cultural artifacts collected by my mother to educate us about our black heritage,” Gaignard states. “I specifically recall this one sculpture of three brown children eating watermelon on a fence. In my mind, it was a portrait of my siblings and me. Thinking back, I realize those were very problematic representations of Blackness, yet at the same time I found them beautiful. They were on the top shelf-my mom treated them as prized possessions and I translated this reverence into her feelings for us.” While the photographs provide distant, externalized views of binary roles, the installations and sculptural tableaux provide a more “lived-in” experience, offering viewers insight into the possible worlds that lie beneath the veneer of Gaignard’s characters.
The Powder Room serves a dual function for Gaignard as both a physical space of cosmetic touch-ups and a conceptual site of intersectional performance. As her characters seek solace through camp and artifice, they situate Gaignard’s own story among the ongoing mythologies of Blackness, femininity, and youth that permeate what it means to survive, then and now, as a woman in America.
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