Arrows of Time

N ine arrows protrude from the wall just inside one window of City Gallery. Embellished with feathers and designs from indigenous and African cultures, they’ve hit their target: the white walls of an art gallery. Five more appear to have soared through the space to pierce its back wall. This installation, Indigenous Trauma, by the artist Ari Montford, is one of seven works in the exhibition Legacy & Rupture, on view through May 30.

In mounting the exhibition—the gallery’s first to feature all Black artists—curator Howard el-Yasin says he wasn’t so much interested in the identity of the artists as he was in the question of Blackness itself. “I was trying to focus on artists who are exploring Blackness, the concept of Blackness, and consciousness,” el-Yasin says. “I was after dismantling or at least dismissing the concept of a monolithic way of thinking about Blackness.”

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The penetration of the gallery’s traditional white walls by Montford’s arrows is a signal of other “ruptures” you’ll find within. Nathaniel Donnett’s multimedia piece In a subtle but noticeable change, the pattern is transposed a step-higher breaks a number of “rules” of exhibiting art, mixing several disparate pieces in a grid that itself is broken, with one placed above the others and one on the floor below, leaning against the wall as if not yet installed.

In a subtle but noticeable change also moves beyond the visual to provide a soundtrack not only for this piece but for the entire exhibition. Accompanied by a repeating cadence of drum and tambourine, a man’s voice reads a manifesto about Black life. The soundtrack belongs to a composite of video clips Donnett has filmed—of hair products, boxing gloves, a church sign, a megaphone, a traffic light, people dancing and protesting, children playing, a hearse. The percussion of the instruments and the words beats across the gallery, as if counting the visitor’s movement from one piece to the next.

In Monuments to Escape, Marisa Williamson reimagines Colonial, patriarchal and white-centric monuments along the New England Trail, a 215-mile hiking trail that runs from the Long Island Sound to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. In a video and a series of 12 posters (also available for sale as postcards), Williamson and her collaborators have created “imagined monuments to the trail’s hidden histories,” as the video puts it. One poster collage, for example, superimposes a photograph of the sculpture In Guns We Trust by Sebastián Arroyo Hoebens into a New England forest. Shining gold bullets as tall as a human stand like silos along a path paved with guns. “How Did You Come to Occupy This Land?” the text asks. Other panels honor underappreciated figures in New England history, such as the Black 19th-century portrait photographer Augustus Washington and three Black women who provided medical care for residents in the region around the trail during the 19th century.

A story set in the past offers a moment to reflect on what’s possible in the present in the artist Ransome’s acrylic painting and collage Coming Out. The piece, which depicts two Black men sleeping under a quilt, references the 2021 novel The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., which tells the story of two enslaved men who are lovers. “I was struck by that story because it’s one that I had never heard of,” el-Yasin says. “[It’s] one that you can imagine as being possible, but then you imagine… during slavery, how could that be?” The men’s elegant black heads, contoured in purple and delicately outlined in pink, are turned away from one another, with space between them. This separation is subtly echoed in the lines of the quilt and the colorful collar of one man, its two wings made of a single piece of paper torn in half. Dominating nearly two-thirds of the canvas, the quilt is a collage of paper and paint, its four-pointed flowers with diamond centers off-kilter and crooked, giving it a homemade look—what the artist refers to, in his statement, as a result of his own instinctive process, inspired by the “spontaneity of hip hop deejays and the resourcefulness of rural quilters.”

Hung beside In a subtle but noticeable change, Ransome’s painting suggests Donnett’s grid of works as another quilt, this one made of abstract collages in colored duct tape and paper, photographs, a book and a record album cover hung upside down, a handheld paddle fan decorated with a picture of an air conditioner, a cascade of silver tambourine zills threaded onto long white bands like bangled hair. The video screen showing scenes from Black life occupies the lower left corner. El-Yasin calls the effect a “constellation of Blackness.”

In bringing together the seven artists in Legacy & Rupture, el-Yasin was inspired by a quotation from humanities professor Christina Sharpe of York University in Toronto: “[T]he past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present.” Like Montford’s arrows, Black legacies continue to sail in and pierce the present.

Legacy & Rupture
City Gallery – 994 State St, New Haven (map)
Fri-Sun 1-4pm or by appointment through May 30, 2021
(203) 782-2489 | [email protected]…

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, featuring Ari Montford’s Indigenous Trauma, photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 2, featuring a partial view of Marisa Williamson’s Monuments to Escape, photographed by Merik Goma.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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