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June Issue 2010

College of Charleston Offers Works by Nick Cave & Phyllis Galembo for Spoleto Festival

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston School of the Arts is presenting Call and Response: Africa to America / The Art of Nick Cave and Phyllis Galembo. The exhibition, offered in partnership with Spoleto Festival USA, will be on view through June 26, 2010, in The Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts.

Chicago artist Nick Cave creates costume/sculptures that he calls Soundsuits consisting of brightly colored fabrics, elaborate embroidery, beadwork, raffia and natural materials. Phyllis Galembo's photographic portraits feature masqueraders from the West African countries of Benin, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Call and Response: Africa to America / The Art of Nick Cave and Phyllis Galembo pairs the work of these two uniquely American artists, each of whom explores the contours of West African masquerade through their art. This exhibition highlights the role of ritual traditions within the formation of cultural identity.  While Galembo's intriguing photographs document actual masquerade performers in elaborate "costume," Nick Cave's Soundsuits offer a poetic response incorporating a cornucopia of natural and cultural elements rich in associative possibilities.

Art in America praised Phyllis Galembo's combination of a "careful, almost ethnographic observation with a deep sense of mystical wonder" and The New York Times noted the "dignity, conviction, and formal power" in her work. The elaborate costumes created for weddings and burials, initiations, chiefs' coronations, and holidays are often made of inexpensive materials such as raffia, carved wood, coarse fabrics, crocheted yarns, flowers, grasses, leaves, and sticks. The outfits run a gamut of dramatic designs and shapes, from striped-knit bodysuits to appliquéd fabric costumes as voluminous as tents. They might represent male or female entities, animals like elk and jaguar, or various spirits. As art writer Anne Doran pointed out, "Galembo's primary interest is the wearer's belief in the power of ritual costume to alter their everyday reality."

Cave's Soundsuits evince a strong affinity for the formal traditions of West African masquerade though his influences are much wider ranging. Through his work, Cave explores the role of ceremony in ritual, myth and identity. He does this through a layering of diverse materials such as fabrics, embroidery, beads, sequins, found objects, twigs, leaves and hair. These materials are transformed through the mind of the artist into potent talisman. Kenneth Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle states " The obvious brilliance of Cave's work lies in its striking mix of materials, its labor-intensive surface energy and the humor that ripples through it. But the work stands out because it does not sacrifice all critical spirit to effect its near-irresistible appeal."

The combination of these two artists' work offers a powerful celebration of creativity, imagination, and cross-cultural communication. Call and Response: Africa to America seeks to draw both the obvious and subtle parallels between the works of Galembo and Cave.

Galembo, Professor of Photography at the University of Albany, State University of New York has been traveling the world in search of the roots of masquerade. Her work can be seen in five published books and a multitude of past solo exhibitions. Her twenty-eight year journey has taken her through North, Central and South America, Europe, and now, her most recent forays have been in the West African nations of Benin, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. A comprehensive exhibition of this West African work was mounted in 2006 by the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in New York and is being toured by the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

Cave, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey and current Chair of the Fashion Design Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is a renowned sculptor and fashion designer who has been creating Soundsuits since 2002. A large-scale exhibition of Cave's Soundsuits entitled Meet Me at the Center of the Earth was organized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. All of Cave's Soundsuits in Call and Response were created especially for this exhibition at the Halsey Institute. Cave is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is administered by the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston and exists to advocate, exhibit and interpret visual art, with an emphasis on contemporary art. The Halsey Institute is committed to providing a direct experience with works of art in all media within an environment that fosters creativity, individuality, innovation and education. In addition to producing exhibitions, lectures, film series, publications, and a comprehensive website, the Halsey Institute serves as an extension of the undergraduate curricula at the College and as a cultural resource for the region.

For further information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Institute at 843/953-5680 or visit (www.halsey.cofc.edu).

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