A Sidelong Glance
On view at the Brooklyn Museum, “John Edmonds: A Sidelong Glance”—the Brooklyn-based artist’s first solo museum show—simultaneously centers and queers both African objects and photographic representations of contemporary Blackness.
African objects, which often land in Western museums through a cycle of seizure, pilfering, and purchasing, are pneumatically sealed within a system that further degrades them: these objects, usually made not only to be admired but also to be touched, worn, and used, need the natural oils in skin to develop their luscious patinas over time. Edmonds’s Whose Hands? (2019), a photograph of anonymous Black hands gripping an African sculpture modeled after a Baule maternity sculpture seems to ask: whose hands get to hold, to show, to be shown?
Edmonds’s work not only subsumes Central and West African objects but queers them as well. Under his lens, the durag is an article simultaneously masculine and feminine; the bandana a mark of villainy and/or seduction. In Two Spirits (2019), a bare-chested man in blue jeans sits before a kuba cloth, while the double-exposed Dan mask casts a ghostly veil; the title is doubled, too, invoking both the Baga people’s ritualistic masking as well as a North American indigenous conceptualization of nonbinary gender identity.
John Edmonds, Whose Hands?, 2019. Archival pigment photograph, 14 x 11 inches. Private Collection. © John Edmonds.