Forced Exodus: Coded Messages From the Underground Railroad
Forced Exodus: Coded Messages From the Underground Railroad by Joe Lewis: In celebration of Black History Month, we present Forced Exodus by established artist Joe Lewis. He delves deep into the heroic history of the Underground Railroad, a crucial episode in the Black experience, to draw potent parallels between the plight of slaves in the 1850s and undocumented immigrants today. His work explores past and present migration to and from Mexico, the connection between runaway slaves and indigenous people in their struggle for freedom, and the continuing search for social justice and self-determination.
Lewis’ gorgeously printed and embroidered textile works layer and weave details of the storied routes of the Underground Railroad and juxtapose them with vignettes from the dangerous trips of refugees escaping hardship and violence in the Americas today. Some works incorporate visuals from the woodcut prints that depict the brutality of the slave trade (1800 Middle Passage ships and their human cargo) while others borrow from current X-ray views of smuggled people hidden in modern-day trucks. Lewis extracts images of the U.S.-Mexico border from news and the internet and he engineers them into diagrammatic assemblages—figurative elements become fractured, altered and reassembled digitally and are printed on fraying white linen with pointed details cross-stitched onto the fabric. Fences, tent cities, surveillance equipment and armed border patrol are coded images that allude to the militarization of the border and the violence that prevails in this contested landscape.
Working in a variety of media, Lewis’s art projects are richly intuitive but also grounded in deep research. In his work the past is always alive in the present, a resource for resistance and survival. People, places, and things circumscribe his marks, while objects, and sounds allow him to see around corners. He believes that “looking into the future is not difficult. The problem is acceptance. Accepting that lives can change due to actions done in the here and now. At times it’s just an errant word or aroma that lifts the curtain, because the present, as our future, is nothing more than multiple images; not just any images but an ordered relocation of our past.”
On display February 3 through February 27, with an artist reception on February 13.
Ongoing until Thursday, February 27, 2020