Black culture, spirituality subject of new art show

By ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR

At the corner of a busy intersection in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Rootwork Gallery, at 645 W. 18th St., opened its first exhibition Sept. 9 titled “The In Between Space: Black Magic. Black Manhood. Black Matter.”

The exhibit of work by artist Viktor le. Givens features a series of artifact-based installations exploring different human cultures. His reflections on physical objects and their effect on space and black culture through history are a main theme of the show, along with the role of black men in society.

le. Givens, a 2017 MFA candidate in the Interdisciplinary Arts Department at Columbia, said he wants people to feel connected to his work through its artifacts. He has collected materials—including old clothing, decayed furniture and personal portraits—over the years from friends and inspiring elders he met, some of whom have since died.

“I have always been interested in artifacts and objects that people have kept, and the energy that lives in the object after they keep them,” he said. 

Influenced by family ties to the South and traveling experiences, le. Givens said he aims to grab the viewer through his work and evoke memories about culture. He said his work shows African-American spiritual practices that have been lost through culture and generations of families. 

Rootwork Gallery founder Tracie D. Hall said le. Givens’ artistic process represented the gallery’s aesthetic and what she wanted to showcase for the debut show. She said the gallery focuses on art that expresses healing, reconciliation and reflections on culture from past to present. 

The artist’s collections of historical artifacts raise important questions about race, sexuality and spirituality, Hall said.

“He isn’t intimidated by asking really important and often intimidating questions,” Hall said. “When I see him working, it is as if I am looking into a future.”

The self-described creative thinker said he wants to create a space where black men embrace their culture, feel comfortable and think about what it means to be black today. 

“It is very important that we cherish and acknowledge the energy within the black male body and create a space for him to be safe to think, ponder and affect change,” le. Givens said.

Christopher Manning, an associate professor of history at Loyola University who teaches African American History, said black masculinity is an issue people have struggled to accept from slavery to the present.

le. Givens wants to challenge the stereotypical image of black masculinity regarding sexuality and gender, something Manning agrees needs to be addressed.

“African-American culture has a very deep problem with homosexuality and gender,” Manning said. “ [Black] masculinity is very cis-[gender, and] trying to figure out where [gender nonconforming] males fit into that has [caused] a lot of trouble.” 

A component of the exhibit is the “in between” theme in le. Givens’ work, which highlights physical or emotional phases that people and objects, like the exhibited antiques, go through. He said everyone can relate to feeling in between stages of life.

He said he hopes people see the exhibition as an opportunity for fruitful thought and personal change that spark new ideas and  manipulates old ones.

“I want the audience to walk away with questions about themselves, identity,” he said.

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