HPAC Exhibition Explores African American Identity

HPAC exhibition explores African American identity

Staff Writer

Take one step into the Hyde Park Art Center gallery room that now houses Jefferson Pinder’s latest exhibition, “Onyx Odyssey,” and you’ll find yourself standing below dozens of charred, wooden billy clubs suspended in mid-air. Walk two steps to your left and you’ll be staring at a white, neon outline of a man who has seemingly risen from, or shed off, the the pile of charcoal that litters the floor beneath him.

“Onyx Odyssey,” an exploration of Blackness and shifting Black identity, strikes the viewer with the force of a police officer’s baton. Pinder’s work does not aim at subtlety.

A tall, glass tank filled with West African masks stands in the middle of the gallery room. This piece is titled “Monolith (Dream Catcher).” A light, blue glow illuminates the grimaces, scowls and smiles of the various masks. Upon close observation, it becomes suddenly very disturbing seeing so many faces, with such vivid expressions, piled on top of each other.

Pinder said that a part of what he’s trying to do is galvanize monotonous experiences.

“I wondered how you could take these things around you—the mundane—and manifest them as different experiences,” Pinder said, explaining an aspect of his motivation for the project.

Overlooking the entire gallery room are a set of large, white, neon eyes, fixed on a black wall at the rear of the space. The eyes have lines underneath them and look sad, or angry, or contemplative. The piece is titled “POTUS” and is a nod to the powerful man who’s former residence is only a few blocks away from the gallery.

While some might suggest that Pinder’s work pushes a social agenda, Pinder feels his job is to simply spark the beginnings of a dialogue.

“I’m not an activist,” Pinder said. “But I can at least start a conversation.”

In the back right corner of the gallery room, a five minute video titled “Afro-Cosmonaut/Alien (white noise)” plays on a loop. The time-lapse animation video shows Pinder against an all white background, covering himself in white paint. Pinder then appears to be in a spaceship. A white man peers in through a window. The spaceship blasts into the cosmos and is eventually engulfed in explosive flames.

Standing in the gallery room, Pinder voiced gratitude for those that made his exhibition possible.

“I have so much excitement in that I have people that love enough of my vision to stay up until midnight to help me set up,” said Pinder, who’s “Onyx Odyssey” exhibition marks his most significant Chicago project to date. “This is the best show I ever had. I’m very happy.”

“Onyx Odyssey” runs through Jan. 24.