Review: the Progress of Love

The Progress of Love exhibition at the Menil Collection made me wonder about the beginning of relationships.  We’ve all been there haven’t we? The butterflies in your stomach, the warmth of first kisses and hugs or that hunger for the other person that is damn near on the brink of obsession.  Greeted by Yinka Shonibare MBE’s, The Swing (After Fragonard), 2001, and Mary Ellen Carroll’s neon pieces Me Like Blacks/Blacks Like Me, 2007, the mood is set. With The Persuaders 1971 hit single Thin Line Between Love and Hate playing on a loop from Nadine Robinson’s “sonic painting” Light, Version III,2012, in the next gallery, the viewer has no choice but to think of love in stages of beginning, middle and end.

IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE

Curated by Kristina Van Dyke, Director of Pulitzer Foundation and Bisi Silva, Director of the Centre of Contemporary Art, Lagos Nigeria, The Progress of Love explores the formation, dispersion, and expression of love in a variety of cultures through varying media. With over two dozen works from Contemporary artists of Africa and its Diasporas, the viewer is not overwhelmed by the number of artworks present but excited and welcomed to explore this little thing called Love.

Zouhlikha Bouabdellah, Cheri, 2007. 30cmx30xm Sheets of Paper and Lacquer , http://www.zoulikhab.com

Zouhlikha Bouabdellah investigates Love in the Arabic language in her 2007 work titled Cheri.  Consisting of over 300 sheets of paper with different Arabic words for love, scrawled and dripped onto crisp white sheets with red lacquer, Bouabdellah enables the viewer to question their own native language used in expressing love.  Organized in a grid like fashion, Cheri harkens to education, literacy, love letters and language. How did we learn about love? How do we learn to express our love? What words do we use?

IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE

Eaten by the Heart is an hour long video installation by video artist and filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa exploring the question “How do Africans Kiss?” Couples of Africa and its Diasporas kiss on screen for up to five minutes at a time and inadvertently become more passionate from beginning to end. As a Black American, I never thought of kissing as a European practice versus a universal practice, which brings into question the performance and diverse cultural practices of love. I noticed that Eaten by the Heart made many viewers uncomfortable. Not many sat down for more than five minutes, almost anxious and nervous about viewing such an intimate act, especially as couples grew more passionate.  Whether couples were same sex or heterosexual, giggles and pointed fingers from the back of the space made me think again of how we learn about love. How do we learn when to express, give, receive or reciprocate love in a private or public setting?

 

IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE

And how do we learn to end a relationship?  When does the thin line between love and hate disappear? Growing up with three brothers and raised by a single father, I witnessed someof their relationships simply fizzle out. No arguments, No call and no ridiculous facebook posts. Similar to Felix Gonzalez- Torres’ “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers), 1991, two battery powered clocks are set at the same time. In unison, they click-clock throughout the exhibition eventually losing power as time continues. One will fall behind the other, causing both to then be out of sync and no longer perfect but inaccurate or unmatched.

IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE IT’S A THIN LINE

During my drive to The Menil Collection, I wondered about how over two dozen artists throughout Africa, America and Europe, could have a conversation about love without the conversation being too literal. Television and silver screen has brainwashed many into thinking about love in a very black and white terms. The complexities and cultural differences in expressing love are not present in popular culture creating very narrow perspectives about what love is and how it can exist in our increasing globalized world.

As I went through the exhibition, my perspective about love grew and I thought more about how I have defined, received and reciprocated love in relationships, or with family and friends. How did I learn to express love? When did I learn what were “proper” expressions of love and which were “improper”?

At the end of the day, The Progress of Love is about connection. Whether Nigerian, British, or Texan, we share the need for our existence to be acknowledged by the love from another person.  

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2 thoughts on “Review: the Progress of Love

  1. Yes. The artists name is Yinka Shonibare MBE, He also did “The Swing After Fragonard” that is on the cover of the exhibition catalog. If you love his work like I do, he has s how at the Modern Ft. Worth opening on January 13, 2013.

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