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Current Projects
March 25–May 26, 2017

Night Sweats invites visitors to somnambulate through Current Projects’ gallery space in a lucid version of the American dream. Throughout the works on view, social constructs are refracted through the lenses of identity, economics, and geopolitics.

A darkened room hosts videos looped on a pile of tablets on the floor and projected on the walls. Part of an installation by Rin Johnson, these include a video of a woman slathering herself in Vaseline and various videos of people praising and showcasing uses for petroleum jelly. Vaseline, which has been presented as a cure-all in the black community, here is challenged by Johnson, who brings into question the phenomenon of products that are absorbed into a culture without any awareness of potential harm. African ancestors may have used natural, plant-based moisturizers, while members of the diaspora embrace a capitalist-driven, chemical-ridden skin “care” product that leaches through the membrane of both the skin and the culture at large, disrupting connections to self, history, and healthier options.

From the floor of the gallery erupts a rattlesnake’s tail created from rebar and lightbulbs. The snake is historically revered in Central American cultures as a deity, though the Bible-wielding Spanish transfigured it into a symbol of sin. The second part of the structure, the rattlesnake’s head, is at the border of Mexico and the United States. The head is captured in a photograph fixed on a wall above the tail, a bicoastal serpent. Created by Rafa Esparza and Timo Fahler, the snake hisses at the divisive border as visitors “pass” back and forth from one nation to the other. The tail seems to rattle a warning at the city of Miami that once served as—and recently threatened—the sanctuary of the immigrants that define and shape it.

Night Sweats install view

Similar elements that hold value for people who trace their ancestry to other lands—as well as the imperialistic encroachment on these cultures—are present in other works. A piece by Daniel Gibson was drawn in charcoal on canvas dipped in tobacco. It depicts a forest scene littered with surreal cultural references to life in low-income neighborhoods, like fences and surveillance figures. Further exploration of the relationship between greedy imperialists and indigenous plants and people is highlighted in works by Anicka Yi and Tschabalala Self respectively. Yi’s creation—flowers suspended in a yellow, jellied cube—point to biopiracy. Self’s work, which portrays a man plucking plants from an afro, points to imperialist, self-serving extraction of resources from feminine developing nations at the hands of the masculine West. Other works in the show examine the role of technology, poke fun at capitalism, and illustrate the codification of race.

Night Sweats installation view

Night Sweats speaks to the connections among movement, race, and space––a perpetual, seemingly unresolvable theme for the displaced. In cities across America, many communities of color face a reality in which relationships to land and culture are forcibly altered to fulfill the uneven manifest destiny of dominant groups. The featured artists are closely aligned with cultures that extend beyond the circumference of the United States, and their experiences as hyphenated Americans submerge visitors in a conversation that often stalls past the surface level.

Veronica Mills is a freelance writer and native of Miami. She uses her experience living abroad across Africa and South Asia working in the international development field to inform her writing.