Exploring trauma and the human body through art

JC Lenochan’s piece Whitewashed: How in the World Does White Rub Off, chalk and charcoal on canvas. Courtesy of BronxArtSpace.

Exhibit examines this mortal coil with disparate media

Walking into the BronxArtSpace gallery in Mott Haven, one is met with an array of decidedly different, but thematically united pieces: a sculpture composed of boxing gloves, canvases of chalk and charcoal, a colossal tangle of magazine strips, cut and woven into a sculpture that snakes across the floor.

These disparate ingredients are part of Historical Amnesia, a collection of five artists’ work exploring historical trauma, marginalization and how those concepts are traced through the human body.

“The show is looking at the way forgotten histories have been swept under the rug, and how the artists are unearthing these stories,” said Gabriel de Guzman, curator of the exhibit. “It’s also thinking about how these histories link to the present, and how atrocities of the past are handed down through the generations.”

For her part in the exhibit, Bronx-based artist Joiri Minaya incorporated a mix of photographic stills and written excerpts from her performance Containers, at which anonymous performers wore head-to-toe body suits with tropical patterns as “living statues,” at Wave Hill in Riverdale last year.

Minaya, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, and now lives in the Highbridge section of the borough, said her work aims to challenge stereotypes about the Caribbean, and incorporates her own experiences of assimilation and resulting feelings of “otherness.”

“It’s exploring ideas of Caribbean camouflage and comparing survival skills in nature,” Minaya explained. “I incorporated scripts about avoiding transplant shock — how to avoid the plant dying when you move it from one place to another. I saw similarities with the immigration process and that metaphor.”

Kris Grey is a gender-queer artist from New York, whose visceral and provocative work focuses on reclaiming ownership of the body. Stark photographs and a short video recapture Grey’s live, 45-minute performance Homage, which saw him standing nude in front of an audience, slowly removing long, implanted surgical needles from his chest where he had surgery in 2010.

The audience watches in silence as blood drips down Grey’s torso, and on to the ground. As a trans person who’s undergone multiple surgeries, Grey said the performance is meant to address the medical industry’s role in directing the trans experience, and the lack of public space available to talk about fear and trauma.

“I think one of the goals would be to have audience members experience a type of empathic connection that didn’t exist before that they can carry out of the gallery with them,” Grey said. “When you put your body in a state of extreme vulnerability, people meet you there and connect to you — both the audience and I experience transcendence.”

JC Lenochan’s sculpture.

JC Lenochan, a Newark resident who teaches at a public high school, uses his art to analyze how the education system institutionalizes racism. The aim of his work in Historical Amnesia, a blend of chalkboard drawings, deconstructed classroom objects and boxing sculptures, is to to spark conversation about how history is taught.

“The idea of the work is to question the acquisition of knowledge, and how information is disseminated, discarded or delivered,” said Lenochan, who has taught and worked in low-income neighborhoods in Mott Haven and New Orleans, among other places.

“The artistic intention is to create a conversation about issues I speak to my students about every day,” he said. “A major component is cultural awareness of cultural values, and what value we put on the cultures we encounter.”

Historical Amnesia also includes work by artists Sara Jimenez and Jade Yumang, and is on display at BronxArtSpace until March 24. The gallery is located at 305 E. 140th Street, and is open Wed-Fri. between noon and 6:30 p.m., and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.