Fri, Sep 11, 2015 → Sat, Oct 10, 2015
They subjugate first, if the weaker peoples will stand for it; then exploit, and if [the weaker peoples] will not stand for SUBJUGATION nor EXPLOITATION, the other recourse is EXTERMINATION.
- Marcus Garvey
In the August 2015 issue of Allure magazine, a headline accompanies a portrait of a doe-eyed white woman: YOU (YES, YOU) CAN HAVE AN AFRO* *even if you have straight hair. On June 15, Rachel Dolezal resigned from her position as the president of the Spokane, Washington branch of the NAACP following the media outrage over her exploitatively passing as a woman of color for the past eight years. Sandra Bland, a young African-American woman, was unlawfully arrested by a traffic cop on July 10. Her body was found three days later, hanging in a jail cell in Waller County, TX.
Tameka Norris’s new exhibition at David Shelton Gallery navigates the treacherous terrain surrounding women of color in today’s world, and Norris’s work serves as a record of her own attempts to define herself and others in a culture of appropriation and cultural erasure. Sole Rights centers around “Meka Jean: How She Got Good,” a feature-length film which premiered last year as part of Prospect.3: Notes for Now. With each presentation—first at May Gallery, New Orleans; then at Emerson Dorsch, Miami; and now in Houston—the film gains new life as Norris and Meka Jean continue to dig deeper. Sole Rights includes a newly edited version of “How She Got Good,” which will be shown alongside new works that question and clap back at the very production of the film itself.
“How She Got Good” frenetically documents the struggles of Norris’s alter-ego Meka Jean as she alternately succeeds and fails in art, music, and personal relationships. Meka Jean’s search for clarity somehow parallels the rapidly changing cityscape of post-Katrina New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast. Making a film, of course, is never easy. Over the course of producing “How She Got Good,” one of Norris’s collaborator’s—a woman of color who has benefited from her position as the daughter of a successful and wealthy (white) New York artist—stole and repurposed much of the film’s footage, coopting a project very deeply rooted in Norris’s own skin and the visibility of her body. Another collaborator, a white male colleague, threatened to shut down the production of “How She Got Good” and attempted to strongarm Norris into passing along a share of the profits to him, even though he had already been paid.
Despite her role as a seemingly autonomous artist and creator, Norris could no longer control the appearance, movement, and appropriation of her own body. Drawing from her experiences as an artist and as a woman of color, Norris uses the works in Sole Rights to address the larger legal and ethical ramifications of maintaining ownership of one’s own self in the face of extermination.
In “Recovery (2015),” Norris uses the forms of a reality-TV confessional and a celebrity interview to revisit the trauma of appropriation and subjugation through a humorous and unsettling exchange. A new sculptural work transform’s the legalese of a release form from “How She Got Good” into a woven throw blanket, an illusory symbol of comfort and protection. Norris acknowledges paperwork as a bureaucratic, but necessary, method of self-preservation in a world hell-bent on erasing her story.
Sole Rights also includes a selection of Norris’s paintings and painted sculptures. Through these works, Norris visualizes her experience of the destruction of Hurricane Katrina by painting familiar images and family houses on found fabrics stitched together into makeshift canvases or interactive soft sculptures, connecting the public visibility of the storm’s wrath to Norris’s—and many others’—personal and intimate experiences.
Tameka Norris (b. 1979, Guam) received her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles before graduating with an MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2012. She has participated in the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2009), the Fountainhead Residency (2012) and the Hermitage Artist Retreat (2012). Her group exhibitions include Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art recently at the Walker Art Center and Gifted and Talented, Third Streaming Gallery, New York (2012). Norris debuted her feature length film/installation Meka Jean: How She Got Good at Prospect 3 in New Orleans (2014). Norris lives and works in New Orleans, LA and Berlin, Germany.