3 new exhibitions open until March 6, 2021
White Columns

Three new exhibitions now open.
January 12–March 6, 2021

White Room: Julius Caesar Bustamante

Project: S*an D. Henry-Smith
“in awe of geometry & mornings”

Jeffrey Meris
Still Standing

Julius Caesar Bustamante, Aqua Ebony, n.d., pastel on paper.

White Room: Julius Caesar Bustamante

White Columns is pleased to present a posthumous survey of drawings by Julius Caesar Bustamante (1957-2013.) This is the first solo exhibition dedicated to his work. Born in Curaçao (formerly a part of the Dutch Antilles) and raised in East Harlem, New York, Bustamante was a member of the Arawak / Carib nation. Bustamante served in an airborne battalion of the US Army between 1976 and 1983 and served in two theaters of engagement. Bustamante was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2000, and started to draw shortly thereafter. Self-taught as an artist Bustamante described his art making as a cathartic process that helped to soothe his “state of mind.” Between 2005 and 2013 he was affiliated with the pioneering art studios at New York’s H.A.I. (Healing Arts Initiative.) H.A.I. was a forward-thinking nonprofit organization founded in 1970 with a mission to “inspire healing, growth and learning through engagement in the arts for the culturally underserved … whose access to the arts have been limited by health, age or income.”

Bustamante was a prolific artist and would often complete three 24” x 19” drawings during a single session at H.A.I.’s studios. During his time working at H.A.I. it is estimated that Bustamante produced as many as 1,000 drawings, of which some 200 remain in the organization’s archives – and from which this exhibition has been selected. Widely traveled, Bustamante was interested in how the histories of ancient civilizations both inform and reverberate in the present. (His artist page on H.A.I.’s website includes the statement: “We must be mindful of history or [be] doomed to repeat it.”) Writing about Bustamante’s process Quimetta Perle, an artist and former H.A.I. staff member, has said: “Julius was very proud of his heritage and featured flora, fauna and mythical imagery from the Caribbean and Central and South America in his work. He did a lot of research from books and other reference sources, he was voracious about finding imagery of plants, animals and historical cultural traditions from around the world to incorporate in his work.”

Bustamante’s drawings, almost exclusively in pastel, incorporate overlapping and overlayered images of the natural world – animals, fauna and flora etc. – that are juxtaposed with fragments of architectural structures drawn from both history and memory. Bustamante’s art does not describe a singular specific place, rather it presents us with a disorientating collision of distinct cultural markers and referents, establishing in turn a profoundly complex aesthetic realm – a visual world – entirely of his own creation. It is this ‘visionary’ aspect of Bustamante’s approach that aligns his extraordinary art with that of now established ‘outliers’ such as Henri Rousseau, Martín Ramírez, and Joseph Elmer Yoakum among other autonomous and idiosyncratic voices.

Julius Caesar Bustamante (1957-2013.) Bustamante’s work was presented by H.A.I. at the Outsider Art Fair, New York in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He had a two-artist exhibition at H.A.I.’s gallery in 2011 (with Irene Phillips); his work was included in a 2009 group exhibition at the Noyes Art Museum, Oceanville, NJ, and in the 2019 exhibition “Healing Arts!” at White Columns, New York.

About H.A.I.: Founded in 1970 and originally known as Hospital Audiences Inc., H.A.I.’s mission was to “inspire healing, growth and learning through engagement in the arts for the culturally underserved in the New York City community … whose access to the arts have been limited by health, age or income.” H.A.I. was dissolved in 2016 after a series of tragic events forced the organization into bankruptcy. White Columns was instrumental in helping to preserve the organizations’ four-decade-plus archive of art produced under H.A.I.’s auspices: an unprecedented and historically significant collection of several thousand individual art works, including approx. 200 drawings by Julius Caesar Bustamante.

White Columns has collaborated extensively with H.A.I. in the recent past including staging widely- acknowledged solo exhibitions by H.A.I.-affiliated artists Derrick Alexis Coard, Lady Shalimar Montague, Rocco Fama and Ray Hamilton. In 2019 we presented “Healing Arts!” an exhibition drawn from H.A.I.’s archives that featured the work of twenty-four artists previously affiliated with H.A.I. These exhibitions were a part of White Columns now 15-year-plus – and ongoing – commitment to supporting the work of artists living and working with disabilities.

We would like to thank Quimetta Perle and all of the former H.A.I. staff for their enthusiastic support and assistance with this and previous exhibitions and presentations of H.A.I.’s artists. We would also like to acknowledge Jay Gorney for making the original introduction between White Columns and H.A.I.

S*an D. Henry-Smith imprint, 2019 Archival inkjet print, unique 16.25 x 11 in. (A photograph depicting a section of a pair of legs with pants rolled up over the knees and black leather boots up to their calves, stretched over straw covered mud. There is a red imprint from an unknown object that had been pressed on the outside of the right leg.)
S*an D. Henry-Smith,imprint, 2019, Archival inkjet print, unique.

Project: S*an D. Henry-Smith
“in awe of geometry & mornings”

White Columns is pleased to present “in awe of geometry & mornings”, the New York-based poet and photographer S*an D. Henry-Smith’s first photography-focused presentation in New York City.

“in awe of geometry & mornings” brings to scale a selection of ten photographs drawn from Wild Peach, Henry-Smith’s collection of poems and photographs published in Fall 2020 by Futurepoem. The artist describes Wild Peach as an exploration of nonlinear, non-narrative time through what they identify as a sonic offering of image and text – a sensory amplification of the natural world and life in all of its transitory states – challenging poetry and photography to work together without illustrating one another.

Henry-Smith’s images have emerged from a long-standing process of witnessing what they have described as “the abstractions of the available.” The photographs themselves exist within a larger constellation of works made across several years and in different locales including: Goosenecks State Park, UT; Catskills, NY; New Orleans, LA; and Brooklyn, NY, among others.

These works respond to scholar and author Kevin Everod Quashie’s question, “Simply, what does a quiet life look like?” (from the book “The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture”) and upon further reflection Henry-Smith, asks back: “What is the threshold of volume? In the garden and the noise, what must be learned from the garble? Making myself porous to potent stillnesses, these photographs are made with a sensitivity to the worlds I am invited to, the secrets we co-create, the tender offerings of the Outdoors: stumbling into a sky ablaze, or met with the charmed gaze of kinship, this methodology informs a long practice in witnessing the abstractions of the available, the unfolding of light and time, glimpses of autofiction if the hand reveals its cards.”

S*an D. Henry-Smith (b. 1992 Brooklyn, NY) is an artist and writer working primarily in poetry, photography, and performance, engaging Black experimentalisms and collaborative practices. Recent readings and performances include Call with Justin Allen and Yulan Grant, The Shed, New York, NY (2020); book launch and reading with E. Jane, Gabrielle Rucker, and Jayson P. Smith, White Columns, New York, NY (2019); Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip: A Collective Reading with LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Erica Hunt, and Rosamond S. King, Poets House, New York, NY (2019); and The Pearl Diver’s Revenge with Imani Elizabeth, by Triple Canopy, New York, NY (2019.) Recent group exhibitions include Harlem Postcards Winter 2020, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2020.)

Copies of Wild Peach (Futurepoem, 2020) are available for purchase from the gallery and at futurepoem.com.

A series of online readings will accompany the exhibition. Details to follow.

For further information, contact: info@whitecolumns.org

Jeffrey Meris, Scar-tissue, 2020-21, Acetic acid and iron rust on terry rags, stainless steel snaps and brushed aluminum.

Jeffrey Meris
Still Standing

White Columns is proud to present ‘Still Standing’ the debut solo exhibition by Jeffrey Meris (b. Haiti, 1991.) Taking its title from a poetry collection by the Bahamian writer, activist and politician Michael Pintard, the exhibition coalesces Meris’ stated interest in “ecology, embodiment, and the lived experience” whilst simultaneously healing “deeply personal and historical wounds.” The exhibition brings together a group of interrelated works produced over the past year during Meris’ residency at NXTHVN, New Haven, CT.

‘Still Standing’ is structured around a group of Meris’ recent ‘paintings’: large-scale, hybrid collage-sculptural works created from accumulations of loosely-connected rust-stained rags (previously used by the artist to clean his earlier mechanical sculptures.) If the kinetic works are centered around trauma and a sense of racially based violence, then the paintings in ‘Still Standing’ display rituals of care, healing and cleansing these wounds. The resultant stretched ‘skins’ – reminiscent of animal hides – evoke myriad connections for the artist including formal and psychological associations with Junkanoo Carnival, percussion (e.g. goat skin drums), slavery, art history (i.e. gestural abstract painting), and our own visceral relationships with our bodies (i.e. flesh, blood and breath.) One of the paintings incorporates a line from Octavia E. Butler’s 1998 novel ‘Parable of the Talents’: “Love their country and their God.”

The body – invariably, but not exclusively, the artist’s – and the social, cultural, and economic forces that the body is exposed to are central to Meris’ performative sculptures from the ongoing series “Now You See Me; Now You Don’t”: two examples of which – incorporating casts from the artist’s head and feet respectively – are included in the exhibition. In these works, fragments of the artist’s body are being subjected to an enacted violence and trauma, where the viewer is implicated in the process of the artist’s erasure. A third figurative sculpture “George, My Father’s Name”, 2021, consists of a suspended and disembodied torso, punctured by copper arrow-like rods that simultaneously evokes the lives of St. Sebastian (who it was believed could protect people from the plague), the late George Floyd, and the artist’s father.

Exploring the physical and metaphorical potential of both materials and processes Jeffrey Meris’ work is profoundly generative: provoking complex narratives around questions of identity, race, class, gender and sexuality. Meris has described his work as “environmental”, informed equally by the circumstances and conditions surrounding its making. In a recent interview with Natalie Willis, a curator at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, Meris expanded upon his intentions:

“I’ve come to realize that my formative years growing up in the Bahamas and being of Haitian ancestry continues to impact the ways that I see the world … The Caribbean in and of itself is such a complicated and nuanced space, and to be transplanted to America where things tend to get flattened and squeezed into these homogenized senses of existing, makes it no less complex. America doesn’t see Caribbean, it sees Black. My material sensibility is grounded in values, objects and meanings that speak to – but also depart or break away from – certain traditions. A concrete block can be an architectural element but also a signifier of class, stability and a stand-in for the myth of masculinity. How can I challenge the myths constructed around race, gender, class, and sexuality using signs and symbols that have become symbolic of their existence? In the grander scheme of this discourse, what I am realizing is that the divide that geopolitical borders put on what it means to be human is fictitious, and the sooner we realize this the better off we will be to respond to real issues challenging humanity, such as climate change and migration.”

Jeffrey Meris was born in 1991 in Haiti and subsequently raised in the Bahamas. He received an A.A. in Art from The College of The Bahamas, Nassau, Bahamas (2012); a BFA in Sculpture from Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Philadelphia, PA (2015); and a MFA from Columbia University, New York (2019.) His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, most recently in ‘Unmastered’ curated by Tavares Strachan for Mestre Projects, Nassau, Bahamas; and ‘overmydeadbody’ curated by Tavares Strachan and Laurie Lazer for The Luggage Store, San Francisco, CA (both 2020) Meris is currently an artist-in-residence at NXTHVN, New Haven, CT. To learn more about Jeffrey Meris’ work visit: www.jeffreymeris.com

For further information, contact: info@whitecolumns.org

White Columns
91 Horatio Street
New York, NY 10014
Tuesday–Saturday, 12–6 PM
info@whitecolumns.org
Instagram