Who has (an) agency? Rashayla Marie Brown’s work questions the efficacy of representational agents such as the proxy and the portrait. The title of her first solo commercial gallery exhibition, Can the Spectator Speak? is a riff on Can the Subaltern Speak? and The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators, texts by groundbreaking feminist scholars Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and bell hooks respectively. The exhibition features videos and photographs regarding the complex nature of power in intimate relationships between Black women, particularly when one of them is holding a camera. Rashayla Marie Brown uses a complex set of shooting styles, ranging from medium format film to a digital SLR video, to negotiate the tension of the moments when her subjects, often her loved ones, problematize her gaze through direct resistance or refusing to show their faces.
In the texts that inspired this work, Spivak asks if it is possible for the oppressed to represent themselves instead of always being spoken for by others, while hooks identifies a space of agency for Black women who despise their constant misrepresentation. Brown examines whether or not the person always in a position of receiving visual messages, such as the Black female spectator, deals with her own visibility. Brown’s family and friends represent their own ideas about how she has used their likeness in the reality television-inspired video, Reality Is Not Good Enough. Also, the photographic works that accompany it probe deeply into her own motivations about why she feels so compelled to involve her own likeness in her work. Subtly referencing the aesthetics of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the period when Kimberle Crenshaw created the term intersectionality, the installation proposes one flawed answer for it means to be privileged, contemporary, Black, and woman.
Aspect/Ratio is pleased to present Can the Spectator Speak?, a solo exhibition of new work from artist Rashayla Marie Brown. Brown’s work spans photographic and video-based image-making; performance and social engagement/disruption; curation and installation; and theoretical writings infused with autobiography, subjectivity, and spirituality. Brown received her BA and BFA from Yale University and The School of the Art Institute, respectively, and is currently a candidate for a MA at The School of the Art Institute. Her work has been shown at venues including The Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago and The Museum of Contemporary Photography.