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Art & Culture
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Art Basel’s ‘OVR: Portals’ Online Exposition

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Art Basel’s ‘OVR: Portals’ marked a significant inflection point in the online viewing room experience last week, starting on June 16th. The curators Magalí Arriola and Christina Li, and Larry Ossei-Mensah wanted to open up a world of possibilities with this online art fair. Featuring hundreds of artists from the four corners of the world, ‘OVR: Portals’ invited viewers to reexamine how they think about art, artists, and artistic production.

Throughout history, artists have delighted us with visually arresting imagery and objects. They have also been beacons of hope, guiding us through the travails of life. Whether it be by addressing the fight for Indigenous rights in places such as Guam, or referencing the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, artists have been at the frontline as true witnesses of the present. In this edition of the OVR, we have chosen to showcase artistic practices that interrogate the forces shaping our contemporary condition. This kind of examination is what allows us, as a society, to capture the zeitgeist in a manner that is nuanced, layered, and truly inclusive of our global reality.

Yet ‘OVR: Portals’ doesn’t just portray the contemporary moment. It also asks viewers to expand their understanding of the world around them. The artist Troy Makaza – who is showing with First Floor Gallery Harare from Harare and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – transforms the tapestry tradition using contemporary materials such as pigment-infused silicone. His works are rigorous, critical, imbued with Zimbabwe’s complex colonial history – and loaded with hopes for its future. Moreover, Makaza is one of several artists in ‘OVR: Portals’ who lives and works outside the traditional ‘centers’ of artistic production. His practice is an invitation to look beyond the obvious.

The Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers from Alabama – presented by Alison Jacques, alongside Sheila Hicks – also use fabrics to tell stories. They employ the compositional language of quilt making to refine a distinctive visual vocabulary that is particularly treasured in the African-American community. Although Makaza isn’t quilting per se, his utilization of fabric underscores the creative overlaps prevalent throughout the African diaspora. It is these conceptual connections that make ‘OVR: Portals’ special.

“As a Ghanaian-American curator based in New York City, I found the process of collaborating on this project with Magalí, the director of Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, and independent curator Christina, who is based in Amsterdam and Hong Kong, illuminating. Given our respective cultural backgrounds, it was an opportunity for all of us to take a deeper look at the artworks that we felt were important and to discover others. The variety of the resulting selection is astonishing. It ranges from Saudi artist’s Ahaad Al Amoudi’s poetic video piece at Athr Gallery to Brazilian artist Lourival Cuquinha’s sculptural take on the struggles of Indigenous communities at Central Galeria. You can’t help but be deeply moved by these diverse attitudes toward storytelling. Working with my fellow curators reminded me that there is no singular approach to creative or cultural expression. We must seek to learn from a diversity of artists’ voices to experience art to its fullest.” Says Larry Ossei-Mensah

In some ways, ‘OVR: Portals’ can be seen as reflecting the United States today. Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (America) (2019) – a light installation with the word ‘America’ upside down – is a powerful statement on view at Galerie Chantal Crousel. By simply inverting the word, Ligon offers a lyrical metaphor for the chaos and trauma brought about by the previous presidential administration and the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the work is also deeply infused with the optimism that comes with reorienting the country’s course toward justice and equity in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. It provides a much-needed sense of hope.

These glimmers of hope and critical inquiry during times of uncertainty sketch a pathway toward new possibilities. ‘OVR: Portals’ offers a constellation of portraits of the present and a multiplicity of points of view; it functions as a platform championing a better understanding of the self, of our communities, and potentially, of our world.

For more information please visit: www.artbasel.com

EuropeanLife Magazine 2021

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