Gazelli Art House and pre-eminant African curator Azu Nwagbogu announce James Ostrer's forthcoming solo show Johnny Just Came.
In collaboration with pre-eminent African curator Azu Nwagbogu, Gazelli Art House announces the forthcoming solo show from James Ostrer entitled Johnny Just Came. In this exhibition, Ostrer, who is known for his politically challenging works, unpacks his own relationship to racism, greed, self-loathing, and the cultural context from which they come from. Through large-scale installation, video and his signature semipermanent sculpture, the artist elucidates a colonialist, consumerist, and misogynistic interplay played out by white male dysfunction on a global and personal level. Ostrer believes that as someone in a privileged position, he should question himself directly, both as a white person, and as a male, because both are identifiers of a dominant position in a global society that encourages conflict. He says, 'My current interest lies around trying to convert the narcissistic tendencies of an artist's need for attention into a wider dialogue that reverberates across the social power constructs that bind us all.'
The exhibition takes its title from the urban slang for an African who has recently arrived in a Euro-American megalopolis such as London, Johnny Just Come, or JJC. In this instance the artist is reversing the power dynamics of that well-worn postcolonial route by placing himself in the position of Johnny, the newbie in town Currentsee 3 and an alien experiencing a culture for the first time - based on his own experience of visiting Lagos, Nigeria.
This cross-medium show is a compendium of art-works prompted by the journey of a white London-based artist as he grapples with his initial encounter with the African continent. 'When Azu invited my work to Lagos in 2016 I was filled with complete excitement - up until the point when he asked me to come in person,' Ostrer recalls. 'Then I was forced to admit that my knee-jerk reaction to visiting Africa was one of fear,' he says, 'and it was then that I started to feel, with the realness that only individual experience can deliver, just how pervasive the impact of our racist cultural conditioning really is.' In the show, a vast synthetic reptilian skin made from thousands of flip-flops forms the central backdrop of the gallery. Gathered by Ostrer in Lagos, the shoes are here re-imagined to incite a multitude of emotions in reaction to this humanist representation of the economic and environmental impacts reverberating through Africa, thanks to commodity culture and the rapacious realities enforced globally by Euro-American greed.
The piece acknowledges Ostrer's own holiday version of being a timid Johnny Just Came in Lagos before transitioning into what he jokingly dubs a 'pseudo colonialist chieftain,' employing locals to gather flipflops for his art. Each of Ostrer's artworks reflects a contemporary culture dominated by similar abusive power dynamics across constructions that emphasise human divide, according to race, religion or gender. His works seek to lay bare just how uncomfortable those dynamics are when being honestly examined.
He collages and layers visual and material elements together to create disrupted and sometimes disturbing images, which are simultaneously playfully ironic and deadly serious.
Within this vast footwear installation is Ostrer's most recent photographic series, Currentsee which portrays women tied up and restricted in movement, their natural bodies obscured by consumerist debris, presented on wall-hung mattresses embellished with Seventies floral patterns. 'I see these as futurology portraits depicting why now, more than ever, we need more influence of the feminine over the dominant negative masculine character traits still misdirecting humanity,' he explains. Many are heavily annotated with a multitude of sea life and various animal parts from the human food chain, so that dislocated eyes quite literally stare back at the viewer, challenging them to evaluate their relationship with the natural world.
Meanwhile, for the video installation, Snuffling For Love Truffles, Ostrer has literally sewed himself into the inside of a pig to reveal a self-portrait of isolation, over-consumption, anxiety and self-loathing, viscerally mirroring society at large.
Ostrer feels that addressing the subjects brought up by his work is now more important than ever. At a time when the age-old patriarchal principles of 'divide-and-conquer' are being perpetuated by politicians in Europe, the US and around the world, the artist hopes that by exposing his own entrapment within cultural norms, others may perceive their similar predicament - their fear of 'the other' - and be motivated to unite as a species, rather than inadvertently emphasising divides.
Press release courtesy Gazelli Art House.
Throughout the show Ostrer collages and layers both sculptural and photographic elements together to create disrupted and often disturbing images. Within the vast footwear installation is his most recent photographic series, Currentsee. For the central protagonist he transforms himself into a dominant tribal leader, a powerful chieftain of all...