RICHARD HART creates work that takes as its departure point ideas of African ritual, magic and spirituality. Through painting, sculpture, installation, video and photography he spins a vision of Africa that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, memory and intuition. In 2013 the artist moved from Durban, South Africa to New York where he currently lives and works.
Richard Hart 2017 Artist in Residence Program Solo Exhibition: The Shape of Absence
June 14th - August 11th, 2017: The Shape of Absence is a meditation on the longing for home, transculturalism, migration, and how these elements sculpt a sense of one’s individual cultural identity. Drawing from his own recent emigration from South Africa to the United States; Hart addresses a sense of nostalgia through a reconstitution of material culture. This exhibition is an exercise in creating both a narrative and a dialogue around the idea of memory, loss, and reconfiguration of identity based on a plurality of multi-geographical experiences.
Hart’s interest lies in the the individual and emotional aspects of cross cultural existences. How are identities adapted, revised, and re-presented based on cultural memory and geography? How are these reconfigured personas articulated through material objects? And how are these objects imbued with new meaning based on a reoriented sense of belonging within a new geography? These are some of the queries which Hart addresses in The Shape of Absence. He has developed a design vernacular that is loosely reminiscent of textile patterning. Incorporating barely visible text, this language feels amorphously spiritual or ritualistic, without being rooted in any one culture.
Much of the material for the exhibition comes from Hart’s archive of images, objects, experiences, and memories from South Africa, combined with similar fodder from his life in the United States. Longing (2017), is a large-scale painting set against a dizzying backdrop of graphic wallpaper and accompanied by a video piece that is its source material and an installation of hanging white clay orbs (ingested in South Africa as a traditional cleanser). These works speak to this ambiguity and pliability of both memory and cultural identity. Longing’s accompanying installation is an example of how the artist incorporates objects and artifacts that have cultural significance in his own life to create a ‘shape of memory.’ Another large multimedia piece incorporates field recordings from the artist’s home town of Durban.
The exhibition’s namesake piece, The Shape of Absence (2017), is a collection of objects and ephemera loaned to the artist from friends, families, and members of the African diasporic community in the Newark/New York area. These objects have been designated as talismans or reminders of ‘home’- cultural heritage- by each of their owners. Each item is accompanied by a note explaining its significance to its owner.
An important aspect of The Shape of Absence, is not only the celebration of one’s own relationship to cultural pluralism; but also, the invitation for the audience to experience this sense of multidimensional identity. The participatory component of this exhibition is intended to cultivate larger dialogue about how people identify themselves both within and beyond the boundaries of geography, heritage, history, and culture.