We’ve been keeping an eye on Iona Rozeal Brown since she made an appearance in our 2002 MFA Annual. On Friday she was featured in the Art and Design section of the New York Times. After the jump, read the entire article. Congrats Iona!
Photo By Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Single Works With Myriad Influences
by Randy Kennedy
Max Ernst wrote of collage, though he could just as easily have been referring to his painting, that it is “the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance.”
Over the last decade the painter Iona Rozeal Brown has created a fantastical body of work that unites so many seemingly irreconcilable realities — Japanese ukiyo-e prints and hip-hop; voguing and Noh and Kabuki theater; West African adinkra symbols and graffiti; Byzantine religious painting and comic-book motifs — that it gives new meaning to the idealized space of the canvas.
On Thursday the first of two concurrent shows of Ms. Brown’s new work will open at Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, on West 57th Street in Manhattan, followed by one at Salon 94 Freemans, in Freeman Alley on the Lower East Side. The downtown show, “introducing … THE HOUSE OF BANDO,” opening March 5, takes up where Ms. Brown’s inaugural foray into stage work, “The Battle of Yestermore,” for Performa in 2011, left off. It features a series of iconlike portraits of the voguing stars Benny and Javier Ninja, who performed in the 2011 piece, a dance battle at the intersection of Asian and African-American culture. In the new paintings the Ninjas are joined by the choreographer and dancer Monstah Black, and the three, along with Ms. Brown, have formed the House of Bando, a voguing house named for Tamasaburo Bando, a female impersonator of the Kabuki stage.
Ms. Brown, 46, was raised in Washington and came to painting only in her late 20s, studying at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Yale University School of Art. One of her early epiphanies was the discovery of ganguro, a 1990s movement in Japan in which young girls expressed their love of hip-hop culture by darkening their skin and dressing like their favorite stars. This led to a series of early works known as the “blackface paintings” that jump-started her career, one that is now gaining speed with a host of projects in the works.
In her large, chaotic studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Ms. Brown talked with Randy Kennedy about her first trip to Japan in 2001 and working in New York. These are excerpts from the conversation.
Q. How early did you discover Asian visual culture?
A. When I was very young, between 7 and 9, I was taken to see Kabuki and Bunraku puppet theater, and it made a huge impression on me. And I went to see the Chinese wushu team performing live, with Jet Li. I actually remember seeing on television the conversation that he had with President Nixon where Nixon said, “Maybe when you grow up, you can be my bodyguard, young man.” And Jet Li’s like, “Um, I’m not interested in that at all.” I loved that.
What was your reaction when you saw ganguro in Japan?
I thought it was great that they were listening to hip-hop. The only problem I had with these kids was: Why the darkening of the skin? Why do they feel the need to do that? I had to do something to figure out what I thought. I’m still not sure I know what I think.
You’re now delving deeper into voguing culture. What’s the connection to the rest of your work?
In histories of Kabuki they say that if you were to take pictures of the performances, the stills would all look like the figures in woodblock prints. And watching Kabuki, it hit me: The same thing is happening with voguing, the same formality. “Strike a pose” poses. I can get all excited just talking about it.
You seemed to resist moving to New York for a long time. What finally brought you to Brooklyn?
The thought was very overwhelming, so I had to look at it very simply. I thought, O.K., this is a company, and it’s time to expand. I joke around and tell my friends I moved here because I wanted a raise.
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