Ja’Tovia Gary: flesh that needs to be loved — at Paula Cooper Gallery

Ja’Tovia Gary
flesh that needs to be Loved
Paula Cooper Gallery
521 West 21st Street, New York, 10011
February 15 – March 21, 2020

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Installation view: Ja’Tovia Gary, flesh that needs to be loved, 2020 Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
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Installation view: Ja’Tovia Gary, flesh that needs to be loved, 2020 Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
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Installation view: Ja’Tovia Gary, flesh that needs to be loved, 2020 Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
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Installation view: Ja’Tovia Gary, flesh that needs to be loved, 2020 Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

“flesh that needs to be loved” marks Ja’Tovia Gary’s inaugural exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery. The presentation includes the East Coast premiere of THE GIVERNY SUITE, 2019—an immersive, three-channel extension of her acclaimed forty-minute film, The Giverny Document (Single Channel), 2019—as well as the artist’s first-ever multimedia sculptural installation. Using a broad range of techniques such as direct animation, documentary, experimental film, video art, and cinema verité, Gary charts the ways structures of power shape our perceptions around representation, race, gender, sexuality, and violence. Her work seeks to liberate the distorted histories through which Black life is often viewed, while fleshing out a nuanced and multivalent Black interiority.

Filmed on location in Harlem, New York, and in Claude Monet’s historic gardens and orchards in Giverny, France, THE GIVERNY SUITE is a multi-textured meditation on the safety and bodily autonomy of Black women. Undergirded by Black feminist theory concerning the body and the flesh, Gary bears witness to lives, traumas, and fleeting moments of beauty that have been obscured by the afterlife of slavery.1 “Do you feel safe?,” she asks a range of multigenerational and transnational Black women at the intersection of Malcolm X Boulevard and W 116th Street. The installation’s central channel forms the work’s narrative thread while its two flanking feeds broaden its critical and affective resonances. Woven as a cinematic poem, Gary employs repetition and montage editing to layer sequences of original footage with archival video and film—including Nina Simone at the Montreux Festival in 1976; Diamond Reynolds following the murder of Philando Castile in 2016; Josephine Baker in the 1934 motion picture, ZouZou; Fred Hampton speaking on political education, c. 1968-69; and an early twentieth-century Haitian travel log. Through audacious formal experimentation, Gary explores the creative virtuosity of Black femme performance while interrogating the histories of Black women’s lives and bodies as spaces of forced labor and commodified production.

The Giverny Document (Single Channel), 2019, which occupies the center channel of THE GIVERNY SUITE, premiered at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in August 2019, where it was declared the winner of the Moving Ahead Award. This was followed by an Honorable Mention at the Camden International Film Festival in September. In December 2019, the film was awarded the Douglas Edwards Experimental Film Award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

For her first sculptural installation, Gary will recreate an approximation of her 1990s childhood living room in Dallas, Texas—a familial tableau with discretely positioned recliner, table lamp, rug, and other decorative accents. Illuminated by condensed chiaroscuro lighting, the room evokes a prismatic dreamscape, at the center of which stands a slanted tower of stacked monitors. Each playing a unique looped video, the three monitors and their domestic circumambience spotlight the paradoxical intersection of violence of the interior and notions of home and placemaking. As a meditation on memory, bodies, and the realm of the haptic, the piece asks: When is it clear that the old life is over, a new one has begun, and there is no looking back?2

  1. Saidiya V. Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). 
  2. Ibid. 
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via Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Featured image: Installation view — Ja’Tovia Gary, flesh that needs to be loved, 2020 Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
All images © the gallery and the artist(s)