The exhibition asks viewers to challenge their own version of history — to look deeper at what might have been left out.
Imagine a world where every story was celebrated and recognized. Now return to today’s reality – to a myriad of stories lost or erased due to age-old prejudices.
For centuries, the stories of suppressed and ignored people have been wiped away, leaving only remnants dwindled down through generations. Starting July 5, six artists work to reignite history with decolonized stories in the RE/ENVISIONING exhibition at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
From the moment you step into this exhibition, prepare to be challenged to question the world we live in and the side of history that you learned.
“Within the last few years, a lot is being brought up around education: what we’re taught about culture and especially the diversity of culture in the U.S., and how people are being represented in this ‘official narrative,'” Nicole Dowd, co-curator and head of public programs at the National Museum of Asian Art, says. “I especially think about education and how I was taught about American history and art, and it’s all from a very singular perspective — a very Western perspective.”
RE/ENVISONING features artists Adele Yiseol Kenworthy, Antonio McAfee, Stephanie Mercedes, Fargo Nissim Tbakhi, Jessica Valoris and Stephanie J. Williams. Each artist brings a redefined story highlighting how society has rationalized discrimination, and encourages the audience to contemplate world views and traditions.
Dowd and Allison Nance, independent curator and arts administrator, worked together to curate this introspective gallery that skims the surface of the abundance of suppressed stories. This collection combines work from different artists questioning who writes history and analyzing colonized stories that have spread and evolved.
From Jessica Valoris’ lost and found poems to Stephanie Mercedes’ redefined weapons and everything in between, this exhibition showcases the societal impact these lost stories have.
“A lot of my work is around creating opportunities for people to remember and practice reverence for both the struggles that our ancestors endured, but also their brilliance,” Valoris says. “The theme of re-envisioning feels like an ancient practice that we’ve continued to do to make ourselves possible over and over again, amidst conditions that feel very impossible.”
While each artist provides a new focus, they all share the same theme of suppression. D.C.-based Valoris, inspired by her Black American and Jewish ancestry, creates mixed media paintings, installations, ritual performances and social practices.
Artist Adele Yiseol Kentworthy found a book written by a Korean florist in the ’90s during the Covid-19 pandemic. This book inspired her work on the practice of 꽃꽂이, Korean floral arranging. She uses these flowers to re-conceptualize inheritance and challenge public memory.
The photography by Indiana-based artist Antonio McAfee reinvents portraits of 19th century African Americans to confront the intricate idea of representation. He alters the pieces to encourage engagement and provide an alternative view. The gallery provides 3D glasses so patrons can get a new view of these portraits.
When I first met queer Latinx artist Stephanie Mercedes at the University of Maryland in fall 2022, I was her student. Almost a full year later, I was able to return to her installation from a new perspective, to see how her work on violent histories flourished in a new space. Mercedes’ sound-based installations and performances are placed throughout the gallery, enveloping patrons in her concept.
“The piece was the first time in an installation and in sound composition that I began to un-name sound and compose music based off of the process of transformation, rather than just the result,” Mercedes says. “And part of that process to me is very inherently queer. So, it was kind of the beginning of me thinking about sound as queer and forms as queer and also the very process of melting down bullets as a queer act.”
Through numerous mediums, performance artist and writer Fargo Nissim Tbakhi creates a space for liberation against capitalism, racial hierarchies, ableism and more. He uses his Palestinian background to create a story through puppetry, dance, poetry, prose, installation and more. In this gallery, his work highlights the way Palestinian grief is monitored by both the Israeli State and the world’s imperial imagination.
Grab the gallery-provided headphones and submerge yourself in D.C.-based interdisciplinary artist Stephanie Williams’ stop motion videos. Her work primarily focuses on “official” histories created for the world to understand social codes.
“My family is super mixed, and we get asked all the time, ‘What are you?’ because we appear racially ambiguous,” Williams says. “So I made ‘Hospes,’ which talks about this unnameable threat, this kind of force that’s sucking the pieces of this multifaceted body into all of these into these doorways. And then the pandemic hit and I started thinking about what this means in terms of taste, in terms of survival. ‘Hospes’ is a way to really think about us as humans, how we sort things in order to be a little bit more comfortable.”
The exhibit uses the District as a background to aid in highlighting the reality underrepresented people have had to face.
“D.C. feels like a very important site for this to be shared,” Valoris says. “And a lot of my work is about looking at these larger histories, but then also locating what happened here in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area. I think that feels important to note: that these histories are not things that happened far away. They happened right here.”
The impact of this exhibition doesn’t end at the door. RE/ENVISIONING is inviting members of the community to join them Saturday, August 12 for a community day dedicated to workshops and performances.
When all the guests have left and the exhibition comes to a close on August 18, RE/ENVISIONING will leave a lasting impression that will continue to challenge the audience to look past the surface of daily narratives to the untold history behind them.
“It’s great when people change their minds about certain things, but I think for me, it’s more about helping people,” Co-curator Nance says. “It’s challenging them to think differently about their own narratives, narratives they’ve heard of other cultures and their own culture that they keep repeating themselves, and just thinking a little bit differently.”
RE/ENVISIONING will be at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities from July 5 – August 18. Learn more about the exhibition at reenvisioningexhibit.com. For more from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, check out their website at dcarts.dc.gov and follow them on Instagram @thedcarts.
DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: 200 I St. SE, DC
Want first access to select shows, exhibits and performances around the city? Join the District Fray community to access free and discounted tickets. Become a member and support local journalism today.