The Hands of Strange Children
In “The Hands of Strange Children,” his first solo show with James Cohan Gallery in New York, Christopher Myers treats the subject of six 19th-century revolutionaries: Wovoka, Nongqawuse, Nat Turner, Hong Xiuquan, Te Ua Haumene and Alice Lawkena. He uses the linear and color-saturated vernacular of children’s books (the artist is the son of young-adult and children’s-books author Walter Dean Myers) to interweave complex narratives. The tapestries, sculptures and stained glass on view interlace the historical, mythological and religious: In Buffalo Robe (2022), a man with a bull draped over his shoulder strains against a violent violet horizon. Knowledge of the Elements, Revolution of the Planets (2022) depicts an astrologist-cum-alchemist. And The Sun passed through his body (2022) depicts a kind of solar deity. Fittingly so—even the historical narratives of these figures are in some way magical. Wovoka, a Paiute Indigenous leader, allegedly had the power to control the weather; Nongqawuse prophesied that the dead would rise again; Hong Xiuquan received heavenly hallucinations all his life. Myers even casts Nat Turner as a creator-deity, grasses growing from soil soaked with his blood, as if following the arc of his outstretched arms. Overlaid as stained glass against an outward-facing window, Turner becomes Atlas, holding the world aloft.
A related project, “I Dare Not Appear,” is a welcome addition to Myers’s revolutionary narratives. Sarah Forbes Bonetta as Omoba Aina as Persephone (2021) tells the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a member of the Yoruba people who was orphaned, enslaved by the British monarchy, raised as Queen Victoria’s goddaughter and eventually married away as a “gift” to a wealthy industrialist. In his massive 34-foot appliqué textile mural, Myers compares her to Persephone, the Greek goddess of springtime, who was given away to Hades, the god of the underworld. The lefthand side of the work depicts a burning pyre, in reference to a raid that led to the death of Bonetta’s parents, as well as, in a metafictional twist, a woman in long skirts reading to a group of schoolchildren. The tapestry is littered with skulls (a nod to both the havoc of colonial warfare and the realm of Hades) and contains a silhouetted warship. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Christopher Myers, Buffalo Robe, 2022. Appliqué textile, 80 1/2 x 57 3/4 inches. Photo by Stephen White & Co. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York. © Christopher Myers, 2022.