Marginalized and Mythological: Shanequa Gay’s Disruption of the Pastoral Landscape is an intricate historical study of the global cotton and textile industries, tapping into the violent commodity made of Black bodies through control and decoration. Integrating imagery of the Black body into paintings, toile schema, from found objects, Gay pulls at the thread of “the devil is in the details” behind textile’s epicurean consumption.
Gay uses components of domesticity—hand painted tea sets, table linen—where each object becomes a specific site within the larger narrative of textile production and its varied performance throughout society. In collaboration with costume designer Elizabeth Rasmusson—who designed and sewed both the table linen and a 1950s style dress—objects give a contemporary take on French 18th and 19th pastoral drawings juxtaposed with Civil Rights era protest scenes, and reimagined Levi’s advertisements where men with Martin Luther King masks are mounted. The idyllic and civil resistance become part of the same far-reaching, deeply embedded tapestry of commerce and subjugation. Rather than approach history by lifting one veil from another, Marginalized and Mythological ambitiously aims to lay it all out at once.
Mythology works two fold in this body of work: in the stories we tell ourselves as we participate in capitalism, and in the recurrence of Gay’s noted deertaur—a mythological creature with the head of a deer and the body of man to signify the “hunted” status of Black men. These figures are featured in a brightly-hued mural, connected by symbols that call forth Adinkra fabric prints, often used communicate a concept or aphorism. Though this particular symbol is not directly Adinkra, it’s circular movement gestures toward the cyclical nature the Black body as a site of entrapment, procurement and transaction.
An exhibition that required a little over a year to plan, the heavy amount of research required to tie this work across eras is evident. Gay and Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art Director Shannon Morris consulted with Augusta University historian Dr. Lee Ann Caldwell to gain a sense of Augusta’s history (then, a leader in the textile industry). The collaborative nature behind the exhibition draws us back to the importance of archiving, what gets lost when those connections aren’t readily available, or erased altogether. Source materials and Gay’s sketches are included to bring this notion to light, and perhaps provide a level of a transparency that points toward a history too readily forgotten. — Aricka Foreman
Installation of Marginalized and Mythological at the Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art at Augusta University.