Anchoring the SoWa district of Boston on Harrison Ave is Samson, a veteran gallery venerated for showing contemporary and meaningful exhibitions over the last 14 years. Their current (and final) show, “Immigrancy” focuses on the concepts of mobility and movement as well as showcasing intimate perspectives into the experiences of artists across cultures. Curatorial decisions, in both the selection of artists and method of display, contribute to a rich, topical exhibition.
The exhibition space is is demarcated into several intersecting partitions of unfinished plywood sheets, either connected to the wall via hinges, or freestanding. Such literal and suggested movement is intentional, assistant Liz Morlock explained to me. The recurring theme of mobility lies within the physicality of the materials in the curation, namely the use of constructed milk crates, wood palettes, sawhorses, and various shipping material as both function and form.
One piece that casually lies on the front desk of the gallery is a pair of jade handcuffs by political activist and art superstar Ai Weiwei. I was taken aback to see work by him out of the context of a museum or public installation because of his fame and notoriety in the art world. The cuffs, constructed of actual jade stone, subverts the cultural significance of the material, much like many of his other works such as the intentional defacement of historical vases with the logos of large corporations. The work is designed to mimic those used to restrain the artist during his arrest in 2011 by the Chinese government in part for making art that itself criticized the state. Without diminishing Ai Weiwei’s experience and layered protest, the sculpture within the context of America’s current political discourse also conjures up the issues of mass incarceration of primarily black and brown people, the ongoing fight against police brutality, and the cruel detainment of immigrants in the US.
A framed photograph mounted at the front of the gallery, still left in its shipping wrap caught my eye for its beautiful technical composure as well as the words that lie within it. The photo by Lisa Sigal reads “Woman: I forgot”, upon an abandoned structure. The broken windowpanes expose the ribs of the building set in New Orleans, a sobering image when contrasted with the text. This photo is part of a series within a larger social project titled “Blights Out.” The project is focused on ethical community development, their mission being “to generate dialogue, art, and action that challenge inequitable development and drive land use policy in New Orleans.” Blights Out strives to confront the realities and causes of poverty as it is lived at the intersection racialized boundaries within the city and the gentrification perpetuated by development companies in a post-Katrina, post-recession world. Such a project’s inclusion in a gallery setting blurs the lines of art and activism, complicating and expanding the definitions of both.
Nested in the back of the gallery hangs a large printed photograph by Moroccan-born Lalla Essaydi, from her series “Harem Revisited.” The piece depicts a woman laying on a bed surrounded by beautiful patterned fabric and curtains.The returned gaze of the model contrasts with her surroundings to engage in an unspoken dialogue between artist, model, and viewer. This conversation is intended by Essaydi; the series is meant to question the prevalence of the Western gaze and the ingrained history of “orientalism as a projection of the sexual fantasies of Western male artists.” This combating image captivates with its striking composition and color, and maintains attention as you unfold the complex message within it. Essaydi highlights that the damaging voyeurism casted upon women of color is part of the history that has built the contemporary art world and rejects the objectification it projects.
Immigrancy is appropriately timed as the current political climate seemingly reaches a climax surrounding issues of immigration, most notably the preservation of the DACA. Additionally, this show dovetails Samson’s own decision to move from a brick and mortar location to a mobile non-profit gallery, setting their eyes on ambitious global satellite exhibitions. Despite the variety of mediums, it feels cohesive in that they are all grounded in the reality we live in. It does not shy away from showing the flaws within our society, and calls for the audience to reflect upon them through commentary. Samson’s final exhibition is a rich space for many perspectives from underrepresented artists regionally, nationally, and globally.
“Immigrancy” will be up until November 11th.