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The Speculative Sky

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

On view at Galerie Lelong & Co. until October 21, 2023 is Tariku Shiferaw's Making Oneself in Dark Places. This exhibition explores notions of a speculative night sky if the contributions of diasporic culture were to be interwoven. Through paint and installation, Shiferaw implores visitors to consider their own cultural projections in cosmology and the positions we takes as viewers.

Installation view: Tariku Shiferaw, A Sign in Space, 2023 in Tariku Shiferaw: Marking Oneself in Dark Places at Galerie Lelong & Co., New York, 2023. © Tariku Shiferaw. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York.

In many ways, the night sky has acted as a projection screen for cultural conceptions about our own positionality on earth. As a reflection of civilization’s deepest imaginations on the intangible universe, we have imbued our own politics onto the sky that have contributed to a sort of global consciousness between the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial. On view at Galerie Lelong & Co. through October 21, 2023, Tariku Shiferaw takes on these ideas in his solo exhibition Making Oneself in Dark Places. By confronting Eurocentric erasures in cultural projection, Shiferaw proposes new mythologies on a night sky that includes the consciousness of diasporic cultural contributions. Through two of Shiferaw’s ongoing work in series One of These Black Boys and Mata Semay, he engages in a meditation on the cosmos through process.

Now, I will do my best to describe the most experiential work in the show however I would imagine descriptions would vary. Objectively, Shiferaw’s A Sign in Space (2022) is a multimedia installation that builds an simulated environment. Featuring black ceramic crate-like structures all compiled in the middle of the floor, there are just enough of them that make you walk awkwardly around the room. Along the walls is a representation of the continuous night sky––what you’d imagine on a night with nothing obstructing your view. The walls are covered in black paint with streaks of color swathed on top. Blended in with the same coats of paint are added hung elements such as a canvas on the wall opposite one that is line with a chain link fence. Accompanying this space is an audio component that strings together a cacophony of birds and other howling wildlife that seem most recognizable to African landscapes. It feels like one has entered the night through sounds, vague shapes, and occasional blips of color as we stumble looking for what it is we might be looking for. What that is I am not sure, or at least I couldn’t find that for myself.

As a member of the black diaspora and a natural born skeptic, I could not make myself in that dark place as the title of the show implies and instead, I felt myself questioning who I was at all. For me, my diasporic identity is an identity of a severed limb. My personal connection to my ancestral roots in Africa does not exist in relation to my identity and references to it do not fill the gap of that erasure. The erasure is precisely the thing that makes me feel like a diasporic person and I could not help but feel like the nightscape created seemed like a motherland project. Why, when nothing but the accompanied audio track hinted at that? It just felt like it. It felt like an attempt at a home for us lost cultural souls. Maybe the night sky, with all its forced cultural projections is not the place for the displaced or maybe the question here is what happens if they were? Does the night sky and all of humanity’s cultural history in it cease to make sense? Shiferaw’s imagination of a global consciousness that includes these lost narratives is enticing to the say the least and a provocative initiation, but I wonder how it fairs across the diaspora in relation to the places that have dictated their identities as differed from other place-based diasporic identities.

Tariku Shiferaw, Superstar (Ms.Lauryn Hill , 2023. Acrylic, poly-chiffon (& other silk materials), on iridescent film and canvas 60 x 48in. © Tariku Shiferaw. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York.

The main gallery showcases painted canvas works such as Superstar (Ms. Lauryn Hill) (2023) and Netela (2022), which address issues of systematic erasure through a method of shrouding these canvases with layers of poly-chiffon. They were dark and shimmery like the night and just translucent enough to make out what lay underneath––vague blocks of color and stripes. These works take on the aesthetics of midnight and the multitudes of color in blackness. The project debunks the night sky as a static state and unfolds it as a view always in flux and always skirting knowability. For the night sky to include projections of diaspora, it asks us to discard what we know of the sky and embrace what is unknown as a structure that yields to abstraction. To accept unclarity. While this section of the gallery does not have an accompanying audio track, Shiferaw gives the works in the series One of These Black Boys, titles from famous songs and artists across African diasporic music genres. This emphasis on sound and music brought in the familiarity that engaged the work through recognizability––a key cultural device that has been historically significant to members of the diaspora. I was not wholly sure if I was convinced of some of the work and its project, but I think that is precisely the point. The diasporic condition is not something to be convinced of but a constant project of trying to make it clear. It is call to action to realize multitudes and in that facet, Shiferaw is engaging in this evolving conversation on the opacities of diasporic culture and its inclusion in a night sky that is most clear when one is in a place of darkness.


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