at William Turner Gallery, Los Angeles (through 28 November)
Reviewed by Lita Barrie

Mark Steven Greenfield’s powerful exhibition of Black Madonna paintings, currently on view at William Turner Gallery, is perfectly timed to coincide with the election of the first woman of color, Kamala Harris, to be our next Vice President; while the exhibition notably follows on the years-long Black Lives Matter protests that in all likelihood lifted Ms. Harris to the second highest office of the land.

As an African American artist who emerged out of the Black Power movement in the late 1960s, Greenfield has had a long arc of making art of consequence, art with something to say, art with teeth. In his latest exhibition, Black Madonna, Greenfield takes dead aim at centuries of racial supremacy by inverting the very narrative of white dominion: exalting Blackness while simultaneously setting aflame, quite literally, the relentless tide of teeming inhumanity that seeks in all-too-horrific ways to subjugate and enslave. …

Reviewed by Alci Rengifo

Chasing the Light
by Oliver Stone
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 352 pp., $25.20

If there is anything the year 2020 has shaken into the very fabric of our imperial society, it’s that nothing ever goes according to plan, rarely is anything absolutely assured. While a biological threat has upended not only our nationalist pride as a world hegemony, it no doubt has uprooted many personal obsessions with career paths and lifestyle. That most provocative of American film directors, Oliver Stone, has now released a passionate and absorbing memoir, Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador and the Movie Game, which in its own way, is fully apt for our time. …

Reviewed by John Biscello

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish
by Katya Apekina
Two Dollar Radio, 353pp., $12.74

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

In the name of nursery rhyme remixology, first let us add the soothing menace of a Pink Floyd soundscape to the tale, and then let us peer into the fragmented disaster that the fallen Humpty has become, and realize that he was never an anthropomorphized egg-man at all, but rather a family incestuously consolidated into a single mutated unit, a dangerously complex and fragile organism that, in breaking apart, becomes its own prospective savior and redeemer. As you keep looking — and you will, because this specific accident has you in its grip, like a shock collar at Sunday mass — you will notice how the congealed blob that comprised Humpty’s interior is slowly disassembling into individual parts: mother, father, two daughters. How each of these exposed selves will react to their blunt individuation, their emergence from a cystic sublet, remains to be seen. And so you watch, and listen, and find yourself drawn into a narrative that is at once familiar and remote. …

at The Barbican, London (through 24 Jan 2021)
Reviewed by Christopher P Jones

Despite what intuition tells us, history is constantly changing. The revision of the past happens all around us and at all times, sometimes perniciously and sometimes for enlightened reasons. For her first exhibition in the UK, Toyin Ojih Odutola has done a brave and remarkable thing. She has created an entire origin-myth that not only revisits ancient African history but invents it. …

by Max King Cap

“My father was a little headstrong, my mother was a little armstrong. The Headstrongs married the Armstrongs, and that’s why darkies were born.” — Rufus T. Firefly, Duck Soup, 1933

He had done it before. One can readily find the photographs of his handiwork; two human torsos, headless, the legs amputated just below the knee. Young and fit but unidentifiable, their fingertips rasped smooth. When first put on display, tens of thousands saw this pair of dismembered bodies and admiringly walked right by them.

Although Ota Benga, standing just fifty-nine inches tall, was cruelly kept with the monkeys in the Bronx Zoo after already having endured exhibition in a human zoo at the St. Louis World’s fair in 1904, things could have been worse back home in the Congo; at least he still had both of his hands. King Leopold II had concluded that his small cloudy country, aged just forty five years, could not be of international significance unless it possessed foreign territories that it could exploit. Belgium set to that task with a vengeance and claimed the so-called Congo Free State as the personal property of the King. He then proceeded to loot the country and terrorize its people. His Force Publique was responsible for cracking the whip, called a chicotte. Made of twisted and dried pachyderm hide, even a glancing blow from it could remove human flesh in thick bloody chunks. This occupying army of sadists was there to make certain that the rubber was collected in sufficient quantities to overfill the king’s coffers before natural rubber was displaced by a synthetic equivalent. Those who gathered rubber in insufficient quantities were made examples of by having one of their lazy hands hacked away. The severed hands were used as proof that satisfactory terror was being exerted upon any recalcitrant natives. While ostensibly having nothing to do with hand-hacking in Leopold’s Congo, there is a frighteningly parallel and carelessly indifferent business that thrives in Belgium: the peddling to tourists boxes of chocolate confections remorselessly shaped as severed black hands. …

Reviewed by Kristy Puchko

Is there a word for cinema that lures you in with a dark promise, then delivers something profound, surprising, and humane instead? When I first saw the trailer for The Painter and The Thief, I thought I had its number, having seen myriad of true-crime docs. The tantalizing trailer teased a tale of two sides: the painter and the thief. I assumed theirs would be a story of victim and criminal, hero and villain, saint and sinner. However, what documentarian Benjamin Ree offers is far more compelling and so exhilarating that made me relish being wrong.

The story begins with a brazen crime. In broad daylight, Karl-Bertil Nordland and an accomplice strode into an Oslo gallery and plucked two paintings from their display frames, carting them out a backdoor. While the men were quickly caught, the paintings were not recovered. This left a lot of questions for the painter who made them. Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova was confounded, crushed, and curious about the theft. She wasn’t a big name, so why was her work stolen? Why those particular paintings? And what became of them? She also began to wonder what motivated the thieves. However, when she met Nordland face-to-face at his trial, the first question she asked was if he’d pose for a new painting. After he served his time, the convicted art thief visited her studio, where Kysilkova sketched him as Ree’s cameras looked on. …

by James McWilliams

Two portraits; two men. Both are from 1930s Mississippi. The men are situated together, photos 22 and 23, both from Eudora Welty’s only published book of photographs, simply titled Photographs. If you could put a frame around both images it would be the Jim Crow South.

The image to the left is of an older, stout black man with a white moustache that droops around his mouth. He sits on a bench in a cluttered work yard in Grenada County. It looks to be the end of the workday. A small chicken darts past his left knee. Two large melons rest at his right, almost out of the frame. The man’s posture shifts, leans back, and his expression, assured but quizzical, darts over his left shoulder, as if responding to a call from elsewhere. His right hand relaxes. His left hand, in motion, blurs with movement. His eyes are dark and deep set. He answers to others. …

by Henry Cherry

Until the End of the World is a film, like the best of them, that stands outside of genre. Part sci-fi epoch, part love story, part road movie, it begins and ends with an image of the Earth’s curvature. Made by director Wim Wenders, it is the culmination of his most successful period as a filmmaker, a truth made all the more striking in that at its initial release, Until the End of the World was a failure.

Now that the world has gone womblike, it’s a perfect time to revisit Wim Wenders’s 1991 film. A globe-trotting epoch part chase, part philosophical debate, part technological recrimination. Wenders called it his “ultimate road movie.” …

on Impulse! Records
Reviewed by Henry Cherry

Shabaka Hutchings, the London based musician behind The Comet is Coming and Sons of Kemet, had just released a second recording with his South African based project, Shabaka & the Ancestors when Covid-19 canceled the promotional tour along with everything else in the world. Hutchings spoke with NPR about the illness, its impact on touring musicians and the financial hit the quarantine has put on those musicians. “Literally, all my gigs in the next two months have been canceled. And everyone I know is in the same boat.” Questions surround the entire world as markets crash, people lose jobs across every sector, and the illness continues to mount. Hutchings isn’t a doomsayer. “We have to make the best of the situation, or the situation will just be tragic. …

By Peter Frank
Forward to:
Captain Squid & The Tentacle Room:
Adventures in Life, Love & Art
by Michael McCall
Fabrik Press, 260 pp., $35.00

Michael McCall came of age at a time when it was cool to live your art. That time may be coming back (no little thanks to McCall’s example, I’ll wager), but between coming of age and compiling this account, McCall’s lifestyle came to be regarded as more vagabond than renegade, more hippie than hip, more irresponsible than irreverent. Plenty of wannabe art-lifers gave the art-life a bad name. …


Riot Material

RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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