During the 2016 presidential election year, artist Wardell Milan would listen to the news in his studio while working on his signature dioramas that he turns into photographs. The surfacing comments made by Donald Trump to the media over the years gave Milan a moment of frustration, from the 2005 Access Hollywood audio discussing grabbing women by the genitals, the Megyn Kelly remark about “blood coming out of her wherever” and the statements against Hillary Clinton’s gender like “she doesn’t have the presidential look.” The feeling of frustration with the news cycle led Milan to curate Kink and Politics: The Ties that Bind, a 10 artist group exhibition including Linda Gallagher, Felipe Baez, Johnathan Payne, and Senga Nengudi among others at the David Nolan Gallery in New York City.
“All the crazy political rhetoric of 2016 led me to thinking about all the perversion of our politics and how at times political action and activism can lead to liberation,” explains Milan to Creators. “Political acts can be used to suppress a certain group or community or be used to help people live freer lives,” says the artist. The exhibition surveys the use of sexuality and gender expression across several generations. Milan says, “It was important to have a show that was intergenerational, progressive, and span the historical to art that was made last year.”
The earliest work mounted in Kink and Politics is William Cordova’s Untitled (Lumumba-zapata), a bundle of 3,000 newspapers stacked in the gallery alongside stones made between 1969 and 2009. The work details the politics of temporality, geography, and the social condition. Cordova’s work is in direct conversation with MFA Yale art student Felipe Baeza‘s Ahuehuete Dormido, a 2017 collage painting of a nude brown figure that evokes the immigration status of undocumented peoples smuggled across the border.
“To have Nengudi’s audio pieces, Mouth to Mouth—Conversations on Being and Double Think—Bulemia, that were made in the late 70s and early 80s and Payne’s and Baeza’s works that were made in 2017 at their most recent semester at Yale School of Art, was important to me,” says Milan. “It shows the discussions the younger generation of artists are having surrounding the politics of sexuality and political liberation are in direct conversation with older artists practices.”
Payne‘s Watermelon (Akrum doing a handstand), a large-scale wall work features digital scans of adult magazines. The pornographic images aren’t perceived easily because in the work, Payne folds the images into abstract geometric patterns extending his work’s conversation to include minimalism and other conceptual modes of thinking about sexual politics. The images in Payne’s work allude to some of the themes unearthed in Lucas Michael’s paintings, Limousine Leather and Dramatist and Give No. 3 (white). The works depict and celebrate glory holes, the holes in walls typically found in queer spaces that allow gay men to have anonymous and safe sexual encounters, as politically defiant.
Ultimately Milan says the show and the choice made by the country during the 2016 presidential campaign is about power. But what the artist explores is, “How does one use power as activism, physically, and metaphorically to bring about change?”
Kink and Politics: The Ties that Bind continues through July 28 at David Nolan Gallery. Click here for more information.