The morning of Tuesday 12th of September was finally here and i was eager and prepared for the viewing reception happening later. Ever since October Gallery announced, back in August, that Alexis Peskine was to be presenting his first solo exhibition in London, I had been counting down in excited anticipation awaiting the moment I could see his work up-close. I first heard of Alexis, through October Gallery, back in March during his exhibition in Paris and for someone who’s not a believer, i prayed fervently for his talent to be brought here. I prayed and October Gallery answered.
Alexis Peskine, born and raised in Paris, has a mixture of various identities but he is firstly a visual artist; this is how he defines himself. With a background in graphic design whilst in Paris and then journeying onto the States to complete an Arts degree at Howard University, Alexis had chosen to go forth on a path to greatness and conquering as an artist. In an interview with Gerard Houghton, Alexis talks about his introduction to the “Black Experience” by being exposed to the arts, culture and black american daily struggles. In turn, this aided in forming his politics and moulded him into the militant that he is today.
It is evident through his work, his desire for blackness to be normalised by amplifying our struggles, resistance and achievements. In this exhibition, Power Figures, Alexis process starts off by photographing individuals, enlarging the portraits and goes on to use mundane materials (planks of wood and iron nails) to form the breathtaking art pieces exhibited at the gallery. The wood go through a process of being stained with earth and coffee grounds and the nails, which magnify the features of the portraits, are embellished with gold leaf or silver leaf on the heads.
Alexis states that his intention for this exhibition, and the chosen name, was to reclaim power that has been stripped from black people through decades of subjugation and subordination. He sees it as a form of “self-protection” that is needed during the process of absolute healing. Using nails as a medium has a symbolic meaning to it that speaks to the experience and history of black people. Often only remembered when in need of putting things together, keeping them in place and adding structure, nails are only used to serve a purpose and dismissed once the purpose is fulfilled. This conflates with how African resources are stripped and used to propel the economy of The West, and Alexis’ supports this by stating that this is “…how African and Afro-American cultures … have been instrumental in creating some of the strongest economies and the most influential cultures in the world” but it goes unseen and disregarded.
Niñeen (2017) by Alexis Peskine
This particular piece inserted above stopped me in my tracks. Upon entrance into the gallery space where some of Alexis pieces are hanging, Niñeen takes attention away from the other pieces and commands your undivided attention and love. I was immediately struck by the warmth in her eyes, yet still piercing.
Niñeen (zoomed in – 2017) by Alexis Peskine
To think that Alexis encapsulates the fullness of our lips, broadness of our nose and even how her hair is twisted so well just by using nails is absolutely breathtakingly phenomenal. Niñeen is a piece i would’ve happily taken home with me had i the finances to do so. I must say, if i had the strength to take her off the wall, put her on my back and make my way home, i sincerely would’ve done that. She is a piece that reminds me to be a fiery fierce force but still retain a softness.
The Architects of New Djenné (2017) by Alexis Peskine
Opposite Niñeen was this gorgeous man, whose expression soothes and comforts me. The half smile, with the prominent cheek bones is calming thus making him the yin to Niñeen’s yang. I’m not entirely sure if they are supposed to be paired, but this observation was pointed out by a guest at the viewing and it stuck. Alexis explained the reason for the name of this piece and according to him, this piece is supposed to present the building of a new town/city. Djenné is a town in Mali and was once a wealthy place in the old Mali Kingdom. What Alexis is projecting with the title, is the coming of architects that shall create a new Djenné that mirrors what it was centuries ago as a part of reclaiming our heritage and power.
Power (2017) by Alexis Peskine
Power is the only piece from the exhibition where the individuals have their eyes closed. With most of the pieces, the gaze in their eyes capture you yet with this work, the intimacy portrayed by Alexis is what holds you. Alexis looked to put forth that there is power in softness and shines a light on the absentee father myth often touted about black men. He breaks apart major stereotypes about black men and masculinity just by the embrace between a father and daughter; a reminder that black men are not born without the ability to be intimate.
Putting this exhibition together took Alexis and his assistants 3 months with 10 pieces hanging in the gallery, together with previous spectacular photography. The 10 pieces aren’t the only ones that was made during the 3 months and Alexis shall be bringing in some of them for the 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair. So be sure to get your tickets here.
Power Figures will be showing at October Gallery till the 21st of October 2017, so i implore everyone of you to go and view this stupendous show.