Alexis Peskine’s “Power Figures”: a spectacular rendition of the black experience.

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Alexis Peskine, Soninke, 2017. Photo Jonathan Greet, cout October Gallery
Alexis Peskine, Soninké Whispers, 2017, Photo Jonathan Greet. Courtesy October Gallery

Alexis Peskine is a visual artist who explores the “black experience” in his artwork. Looking at the large portraits created for “Power Figures”, his first solo exhibition in the UK, you could be tempted to call him a healer, or at the very least, see his art as a beautiful visual antidote to some corrosive stereotypes that have poisoned the public discourse – when talking about black people.

Alexis Peskine makes large-scale portraits of a unique type, using a technique he innovated: acupainting. In lieu of canvas, there is wood and armed with a hammer instead of a brush, he “paints” by planting nails on wood. The nails of varied size and gauge are introduced at different depths and then covered with gold leaf. What emerges from this painstaking work is breathtaking: sculptural portraits that present themselves in fresh and different light as you move around them.

The exhibition opens with Power, a moving portrait of a loving father and daughter that exudes incredible tenderness. Further along, are majestic portraits of black men and women, each one of which expresses different sentiments: pride, power and defiance. Together they stand, poised and set to deflect previous stereotypes and write visually a new narrative about what it means to be black. Where black is usually meant to be ugly, hidden or altered, it stands beautiful, confident and in all its glory. To the omnipresent idea of the absent father, Alexis Peskine opposes that of a gentle, protective father. To that of an angry back woman, there is a serene and proud one. He simultaneously writes an incredible ode to the black experience along with a powerful acknowledgement of the past, ongoing and often violent struggles that have shaped it: colonization, slavery and migration to name a few.

His use of nails references the Minkisi figures – erected for protection – by the Kongo people (current Central Africa: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo) and subsequently destroyed during the colonization and christianization of the region. With Aljana Moons, a picture of two young black boys laying, eyes shut, in a precarious canoe, he references the current migration crisis with the fate of the young African generation left to the sea.

As the author Chimamanda Ngozie said “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete”. The exhibition “Power Figures” tells multiple stories about the black experience. Just like the art works, the stories are complex, multiform, multidimensional….. and spectacular.

Power Figures – A must see at the October Gallery – until October 22.

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