The Bronx Museum of the Arts is pleased to announce Born in Flames: Feminist Futures, the first in a year-long series of exhibitions celebrating the institution’s 50th Anniversary and legacy as a museum dedicated to social justice. This group exhibition of fourteen femme-identified and non-binary artists critically examines current struggles for equity by exploring strategies for justice and equality through multifaceted futurisms.
Including works created over the last four decades, the show demonstrates not only the artists' place within a futurist lineage, but also exposes the ongoing impulse to imagine new realities on their own terms. Artists include: Caitlin Cherry, Chitra Ganesh, Clarissa Tossin, Huma Bhabha, Firelei Báez, Lizzie Borden, María Berrío, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Rose B. Simpson, Sin Wai Kin (fka Victoria Sin), Saya Woolfalk, Shoshanna Weinberger, Tourmaline, and Wangechi Mutu.
The exhibition takes its name from Lizzie Borden's iconic 1983 documentary-style feminist fiction film, Born In Flames, which explores racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism in an alternative United States socialist democracy. The film sets forth an essential question within the exhibition: What can the future hold if our present is part of a long-standing cycle of capitalist values? The artists expand on this question by calling to light the realities of capitalism and patriarchy through envisioning futures that either defy our current oppression or understand that its reality is insurmountable.
The works posit that futurity and social justice are inextricably connected, as writer Walidah Imarisha notes in her introduction to Octavia Brood: Science Fiction Stories from the Social Justice Movement. She writes, “Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fictions.” When we envision a world where social justice is no longer a radical idea, but a reality, we reaffirm the bond between futurism and justice.
This is evident in Tourmaline’s short film Salacia, in which a split screen shows the imagined everyday lives of the citizens in Seneca Village, a 19th-century free Black community in upper Manhattan that was demolished in 1855 to create Central Park, commenting on the erasure and displacement that results from urban renewal. Recently returning to their Cantonese birth-name, Sin Wai Kin (fka Victoria Sin), is known for their use of performance, film and speculative fiction to deconstruct the limits of the body. In Today’s Top Stories, Sin invites the audience into a universe where there is a dividing, but no beginning nor end. In the disguise of a news anchor covered by galaxy blue facial and body paint, Sin performs their emblematic poetic narration in the style of a televised news program, about life, existence, naming, identity and consciousness.
Born in Flames highlights a number of artists referencing non-Western folklore and mythologies to create alternate futures, including Firelei Báez, Wangechi Mutu, and Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum. Upon entering, visitors encounter a new site-specific installation by Mutu: a shrine that creates a womb-like structure. It is a sanctuary that is both fierce and protective. In Báez’s Untitled (New Chart of the Windward Passages), a vibrantly-colored figure crouches onto a reproduction of a map from 1794 which describes the navigation of the West Indies. Báez choreographs a new relationship with these channels of movement, challenging and reclaiming legacies of capitalism and imperialism to create possibilities for self-determination.
The insurmountable fear that we are beyond redemption of the realities of capitalism resonates with Brazilian artist Clarissa Tossin, whose twenty-foot-tall weaving, When the River Meets the Sea, comprises imagery from the world’s longest rivers: the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze, and the Mississippi. Tossin reflects on the way these regions have been shaped by histories of colonialism, and the more recent impact of international shipping companies such as the Amazon corporation, whose name is derived from the river and rainforests of her native Brazil. Meanwhile, Columbian artist María Berrío’s first venture into sculpture work, The Petition, extracts femme characters into a dystopian tableau. The primary figure is an adolescent girl lying on the ground surrounded by long-billed birds, standing over her like vultures.
“There is a trepidation, and anxiety for some artists, that the damage has already been done, and what lies ahead cannot be divorced from history,” says Jasmine Wahi, Holly Block Social Justice Curator. By organizing the artists in pods, the exhibition creates a galaxy of different visions of what the future could be. “These microcosmic elements are representative of how each artist is thinking about futurism––including Afro-, Asian-, Indigenous-, and Latinx-futurism, or something that emerges from those narratives,” continues Wahi. “All of these artists are world-makers, and we’re getting to experience pieces of their worlds.”
Born in Flames: Feminist Futures is curated by Jasmine Wahi, Holly Block Social Justice Curator.
Support for Born in Flames: Feminist Futures is made possible by the Henry Luce Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund: Culpeper Arts & Culture Program, Agnes Gund, Kathleen Landy and The Feminist Institute, Carole Server and Oliver Frankel, Elden Services, Mamais Construction, Island Acoustics, LLC, Gotham Drywall, Inc., Kamco Supply Corp., and SRI Fine Art Services.
Exhibition Date: April 28, 2021 - September 12, 2021
Museum Admission: Free
For the health and safety of our community, all visitors must reserve a free ticket in advance, but as always admission is free.
Tickets can be reserved HERE for time slots between 1:00 and 6:00 PM, Wednesday to Sunday. The 1:00 PM time slot is reserved for seniors and high-risk individuals only, and the Museum is closed between 3:00 and 4:00 PM for cleaning.
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