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
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