“In my photographs, one sees the beauty and serenity of the African experience but one also sees the suppressed hopes and restrained desires that equally speak to this experience.”
Doughba H. Caranda-Martin III: activist; artist-photographer; and his favorite color is red. His latest show, called Mend, was curated by SLC students in a non-Western Art History seminar. It is currently on display at the Riverfront Art Gallery in Yonkers, NY.
A contemporary African artist born in Liberia, Caranda-Martin faced the Liberian civil war as a young man. It was then that he had to establish a life in the United States, separating himself from the harsh reality that had become of his homeland. He came to New York in 1994 to study photography and art at the School of Visual Arts, receiving his BFA. He also attended University of Liberia.
He now divides his time between New York City and Liberia. Caranda-Martin expressed that, in contrast to life in New York, Liberia is a place of solitude and reflection, the space where he finds inspiration. Visually engaging the viewer with contextually challenging themes, his African roots are the premise for his artistic expression. But for Caranda-Martin, his art is not solely restricted to original context. In his artist statement he writes, “I want the work to tell my personal story, but to allow the viewer the space to expand my story into universal themes. Love and war, satisfaction and desire, modernity and antiquity and subjects as broad as death, racial identity, pain, anger and emotional trauma are all present in works I have done and carry on doing.”
His pieces are abstract and combine different mediums, rendering his pieces contradictory: historical but modern, non-traditional and traditional, authentic and adorned, dark yet light. His large scale works, all named Mend, are painted red, white and black and integrate his black and white photographs. Traditional African heritage objects, like sculpture pieces and necklace beads, adorn the surface. Furthermore, Caranda-Martin does not paint on typical canvas, but rather traditional African textiles, something the Western world considers art in itself. Painting on traditional textiles, “enables [him] to begin each work with Africa and complete the work with a ghost-like image of these textiles just below the surface. This gives the work a sense of history while dragging that history into the present.” His works are further evocative in their display, resting atop white-painted tires and leaning against the wall.
Caranda-Martin doesn’t make art to please, nor does he make it to scare. He is creating a visual account for the contemporary political and societal issues that he is passionate about. Given the nature of his subject matters, the show is, at the very most, haunting. But considering the title of the show and all that the artist stands for, Mend is a reckoning of the artist’s perturbations. It epitomizes Caranda-Martin’s way of coming to terms with issues by educating viewers, with the “hope that the viewer will have an emotional response as well as an intellectual response and come to understand the human experience with all its darkness and light.”
Mend was curated by Susan Kart’s seminar class “Making History of Non-Western Art History: Africa, Oceania, and Americas.” The students played an integral role in the creation of the show, for example, choosing the works of art to be on display and managing the development of the show (which is how they came up with the title that the artist named his works of art after); writing a press release and designing the show’s catalog; planning the closing event; doing PR work.
The closing event for this show is February 9, 2012, and all are encouraged to attend! Visually stimulating art in the midst of live music courtesy of Jules Belmont is promised, and of course refreshments will be provided. A shuttle will be running for Sarah Lawrence students at 6:15pm from Andrews Parking Lot, with a return time of 8:15pm.
Photo credit: Derron Campbell