ROYA L SPEC T E R KAJAHL
ROYAL SPECTER KAJAHL November 7 - December 19, 2020
Photographed by Robert Chase Heishman
This catalogue was published on the occasion of Kajahl’s first solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction
Emerging within the 17th-19th centuries, Europe’s most prestigious sculptors and painters were commissioned as
satisfied and appeased
During a time of colonial expansion and exploration, these objects the
‘specter’ residing in unknown territories– who were these people and what did they look like? Displaying a mixture of factual documentation and pure fantasy, the artists who imaged the Blackamoor took liberties when imagining what they presumed to be these 'others' from uncharted lands.
In many cases the iconography was derived from written text or engravings
from the distant past. The artists themselves often had no contact with the mythical subjects they were attempting to accurately characterize.
The Specter of the Blackamoor Figuring Africa and the Orient
To speak of the Blackamoor figure is to speak of several intertwined in1aginaries, especially along the East/West and North/South double geographical axis. A hy brid of the African Black and the Muslim Moor, the Blackamoor figure condenses representations often conceptualized in isolation within the compartmentalized cartographies of the various Area Studies. Scrutiny of the Blackamoor, in this sense, helps shed light on forgotten discursive continuities as well as on historical connectivities across continents and oceans; in this case, those operating along the winding Mediterranean shores of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Manufactured in European workshops, the Blackamoor can on one level be analyzed as part of an ornamental art that reflects various aesthetic tendencies while also reflecting the taste of its producers and consumers. On another level, the Blackamoor can be ex amined critically, as a stereotypical imaging of the racialized and gendered Black body. Here, however, I will pose a different set of questions: Can the putatively re assuring and domesticated Blackan1oor also be viewed as a visual manifestation of an ongoing European anxiety about its Mothers?" Might this image of Blackamoor docility testify indirectly to a doubly repressed fear toward the neighboring con tinents of Africa and Asia? Could the apparent civility of the ornamental Blacka moor mask anxieties about racial mixing, cultural syncretism, and intellectual influence? EXOTICA AS HISTORICAL ERASURE
As a cross between the iconographies of "the Black" and "the Moor,» this phantas matic figure acts as a recurrent reminder of the geographical proxin1ity between the shores of Europe and Africa to the South, and Asia to the East, thus evoking the Western trope of "the-barbarians-at-the-gate," whether the gate be that of Vienna, or the straits of Gibraltar, or the Dardanelles. (Centuries after the inquisition and the Expulsion of the Moors, the new immigrant barbarians from the South clamor at the gates of Fortress Europe.) As polished icons in domestic metropolitan spaces, Blackamoor statues have a fraught relation to Europe's own self-definition, espe cially in the wake of colonialism and its "civilizing mission.»
Shohat, Ella. "The Specter of the Blackamoor: Figuring Africa and the Orient." The Comparatist, vol. 42, 2018, p. 158-188. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/com.2018.0008. 10
John Ogilby. [Olfert Dapper]. Africa.(Amsterdam,1668). Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale. The Theater of Court and church: blacks as figures of fantazy, page 18. 11
Cesare Ripa, Africa. 1603, Warburg Institute, London. Iconologia, Rome: Lepico Facii, 1603, p. 336. 12
ATLAS Royal Specter provides a portal into a realm where the artist’s own Royal Court of Sovereign Entities resides. Kajahl depicts this elite class of courtly nobility through the medium of oil painting. Images of the Blackamoor are used as source material, now reanimated through elegant paintings of warriors, scholars, scientists and oracles, all rendered with painstaking detail and elevated to a grandiose status. Disconnected from their original historical context, these Blackamoor sculptures are reimagined through a hybridized narrative, creating fantasy paintings about a fantasy. Expounding the notion of inaccuracy and fantasy, Kajahl sets the stage for anachronisms and speculative fiction to lie bare, amplifying the indeterminacy of such foreign realms. Large-scale depictions of a scantily clad ‘Huntress’ figure appear astride a snarling crocodile, festooned in gold jewelry and a feathered headdress, and armed with a shield and spear in hand. While an aggrandized surrounded
a scene that diverges in time and place, effectively creating a hypothetical world for these statues to exist as people. They are reborn as theoretical rulers in a bygone era, with Kajahl positioned as the appointed ‘court painter’ of their mythical domain. This Royal Court of Sovereign Entities creates a complex and complicated historical myriad of reverie; Kajahl states, ‘My fantasy is gazing back at their fantasy. I am their fantasy and they are mine… I am the specter of their Imagination.’
THE ROYAL COURT OF
F SOVEREIGN ENTITIES
A large-scale depiction of a scantily-clad huntress figure appears triumphantly astride a snarling
jewelry and a feathered headdress. Armed with a shield and spear in hand, her posture is on the offense. She is protected only by a
elongated figure, with accents of cerulean blue
reflected on her
black skin. The work features emblematic symbols of primordial
oeuvre of 17th century Dutch publisher and engraver
counterpart, fangs, this
emphasizes on The
tral positioning just above the horizon line deliberately
quadrants, isolating the natural ecosystems surrounding her. Erupting volcanoes suggest a sense of impending danger, while lush vegetation and exotic
Huntress In Oasis (Astride A Crocodile), 2020 oil on canvas 66 x 84 in 18
An aggrandized figure gazes in solitude through an elaborate astrolabe, surrounded by his celestial globe and tools to navigate explorations through the constellations. A nebula of rich violets and oranges descends onto the astronomer, as if to physically connect him to the cosmic dimension. The location remains somewhat clandestine; while mammoth etched columns and a stoic onyx sphinx perched in the background are reminiscent of the classical world, the luminescent stars speckling the night sky suggest that this celestial scholar exists within an inter-cosmic realm. Otherwise dark in its palette, a rich crimson tunic is elegantly draped over our polymathâ€™s shoulders, as he tilts back suggesting a state of awe at the unearthly dimension he is observing.
Star Gazer In Solitude, 2020 oil on canvas over panel 72 x 54 in 21
Tigress Guardian In Palmtree Oasis, 2020 oil on canvas over panel 60 x 48 in 22
Drawing inspiration from Robert Beverleyâ€™s 18th century engravings, the guardian huntress positions herself upon a gold throne-like pedestal to create a tromp lâ€™oeil, exerting her prowess as a steadfast defender of civilization. The nude figureâ€™s status as a ferocious warrior is made evident through her bow and quiver of arrows, tools of her militaristic trade. Adorned in striking regalia, her tiger head wrap flows down into a paw with sharp claws protruding. She dominates over her exotic garden landscape, teeming with dense vegetation and flowers, biomorphic yet geometrically arranged, while palm trees loom in the foreground. Her physique is aesthetically beautiful and feminine, yet she displays a clear fortitude capable of dismantling any opposition with ease. Her gaze is somewhat ominous, while her stance remains one of power. Here again, we see use of the volcano far in the distance, now an emblem for the vastness of her world.
Silent Incantation I, 2020 oil on canvas over panel 38 x 33 in 24
Small in scale, Silent Incantation I offers an intimate depiction of a mysterious healer fast at work. A small still life consisting of hand-written notes and incantations appears on the bottom left corner, as the figure suggests the act of divination, chanting words purporting to have magical power. His piercing gaze reflected back at the viewer suggests a motif of double consciousness, as the subject is not only aware of itself but also its audience. This subtle dismantling of the fourth wall invites viewers to examine their own relationship to consciousness, finding themselves mirrored in the solemn expression of this courtly figure. In the foreground, the figureâ€™s back is turned towards us to reveal his tightly curled hair, wrapped with a delicate headband featuring a lapis-encrusted plume. A shawl is delicately draped over the figure's broad, marble shoulders revealing an ornate band inlaid with precious stones and pearls, a signifier of his prominent status. A plume of smoke just
extinguished, perhaps as part of a mystic sĂŠance.
Kajahl manipulates the raw Blackamoor material in order to create a scene that diverges in time and place, effectively creating a hypothetical world for these statues to exist as people. Imagery is used as raw source material to morph fragments into a persona. Images are layered on top of each other, erased, rotated, flipped, duplicated, cut and fused into a seamless entity. Oftentimes the viewer finds it impossible to discern where one object ends and the other begins, allowing for the image in its entirety to become its own scene. The translation into painting takes on a new dimension, as oil paint has a life and energy. Lush vibrant surfaces are achieved through the use of glazing techniques.
Oracle Snake In Globe, 2020 oil on linen over panel 48 x 36 in 29
Huntress Eclipse, 2020 oil on canvas over panel 60 x 48 in 31
Moment of Contemplation (Scholar), 2020 oil on canvas over panel 48 x 36 in 33
Silent Incantation II, 2020 oil on canvas over panel 38 x 33 in 35
Alchemist, 2020 oil on canvas over panel 36 x 48 in 37
working image 38
Oracle (Holding Mirror), 2020 oil on canvas over panel 48 x 36 in 39
Kajahl (b. 1985 in Santa Cruz, CA) lives and works in New York and Santa Cruz. Through painting, he resurrects objects that are lying dormant in historical archives. He endlessly scours and sifts through books, online images and visits museums in order to gather source material. Kajahl takes these finds from his excavations and hybridizes entities that eventually become grandiose figures. Although the characters he constructs belong to a multiplicity of time periods, locations and cultures, they foreground the forgotten past and reanimate minor artifacts of history into what amounts to a transformative assemblage. He received his BFA from San Francisco State University in the Fall of 2008, and spent his final year studying at the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze, Italy. In the spring of 2012 Kajahl received his MFA from Hunter College in New York City. His previous solo exhibitions include, “Kajahl: Obscure Origins,” Tillou Fine Art, Brooklyn, NY (2017); “Unearthed Entities,” at Richard Heller Gallery (2017) and University North Carolina Wilmington Arts Gallery, Wilmington, NC (2012). Kajahl has exhibited his work in numerous group exhibitions at Lower Eastside Print Shop, New York, NY (2020) Coherent Brussels, Brussels, Belgium (2020); Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, ZA (2016); MoCADA, Brooklyn, NY (2013); Contemporary Wing, Washington, DC (2012); and Rush Arts Gallery, New York, NY (2011). In 2013, he was a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors grant. In 2016, Kajahl participated in the Joan Mitchell Center, Artist in Residence in New Orleans, LA, and the New Holland Residences, Studio Program, New York, NY. In addition, Kajahl has traveled extensively throughout Western Europe, Central America and parts of Africa including Morocco, Ethiopia and Kenya in search of inspiration. His travels have been centered on direct work with the photographic archives of the Warburg Institute, Ethnological Museum of Xalapa, Mexico City and Berlin.
Monique Meloche Gallery is located at 451 N Paulina Street, Chicago, IL 60622 For additional info, visit moniquemeloche.com or email email@example.com
Published on the occasion of Kajahl's first solo exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago in Fall 2020.