Successions: Traversing US Colonialism Amber Robles-Gordon

Curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah
August 28–December 12, 2021

Virtual Gallery Talk
September 14, 6-7PM ET
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Eternal Altar

The eternal altar for the women forsaken and souls relinquished. Yet the choice must always remain hers. El altar eterno de las mujeres abandonadas y las almas renunciadas. Sin embargo, la elección siempre debe ser de ella., 2020. Mixed media collage on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Amber Robles-Gordon presents Successions: Traversing US Colonialism, a solo exhibition on view at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in fall 2021. Successions is a conceptual juxtaposition that celebrates abstraction as an art form while leveraging it as a tool to interrogate past and current US policies within its federal district (Washington, DC) and territories (including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands) that it controls. By highlighting nuances related to US governance in its federal districts and territories, Robles-Gordon seeks to question who has access to resources, citizenship, and the right to sovereignty.

Robles-Gordon creates artwork imbued with a layered visual language replete with cultural signifiers and abstract gestures. Successions is a celebration of abstraction as an artistic expression. Robles-Gordon utilizes iconic artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Alma Thomas, Romare Bearden, and members of the Washington Color School as vivid reference points for her own dynamic use of color, form, and material within the works she created for the exhibition. These explorations will provide insights into a number of inquiries that undergird the construction of the exhibition. Successions creates a pathway towards discursive criticism around issues impacting marginalized communities oppressed by the United States’ hegemonic domestic and foreign policies. The exhibition features a new body of colorful abstract paintings, collages, and quilts created in 2020 and 2021 between San Juan, Puerto Rico (Robles-Gordon’s birthplace) and Washington, DC (where she currently lives).

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robles-Gordon’s creative strategies were directly impacted as a result of sheltering in place in San Juan. The lack of access to materials and arduous circumstances she was confronted with in Puerto Rico and upon returning to Washington, DC catalyzed Robles-Gordon to improvise her approach to making works for the exhibition. Moreover, the experience heightened her awareness of how communities on the margin are adversely treated during moments of crisis.

Robles-Gordon’s also uses works featured in Successions to mine the stories, personal narratives, and aesthetics of the women of the Caribbean, particularly of African descent in an effort to investigate the political, socio-economic, and environmental implications of placemaking, contemporary colonial policy, and notions of citizenship on these social groups. The debate over DC statehood, similar to Puerto Rico, has been a prevalent point of contention in the District but rarely featured in the national conversation. Robles-Gordon seeks to use her “backyard” as a metaphor that would expand our understanding of notions of freedom, liberty, and justice.

A fully illustrated catalog with essays by Ossei-Mensah and Noel Anderson and in-person and virtual programs will accompany the exhibition, enriching the viewer’s experience.

Amber Robles-Gordon presenta Sucesiones: Atravesando el Colonialismo en los Estados Unidos, una exposición individual en el Centro de Artes Katzen de American University en el otoño de 2021. Sucesiones es una yuxtaposición conceptual que celebra la abstracción como una forma artística, a la misma vez que la utiliza como un medio para cuestionar las políticas de Estados Unidos, pasadas y actuales, dirigidas al distrito federal (Washington, DC) y los territorios (incluyendo Guam, Puerto Rico, y las Islas Vírgenes de USA) que controla. Mostrando los matices relacionados a la gobernanza de Estados Unidos en los distritos federales y territorios, Robles-Gordon busca preguntar quien tiene acceso a los recursos, la ciudadanía y el derecho a la soberanía.

Robles-Gordon crea obras de arte llenas de un lenguaje visual con varias capas, repletas de significados culturales y gestos abstractos. Sucesiones es una celebración de la abstracción como una expresión artística. Robles-Gordon utiliza artistas icónicos como Robert Rauschenberg, Alma Thomas, Romare Bearden, y miembros de la Escuela de Color de Washington (Washington Color School) como puntos vívidos de referencia para su propio uso dinámico del color, forma y material en los trabajos que ha creado para esta exposición. Estas exploraciones proporcionarán perspectivas a un número de preguntas que subyacen a la construcción de esta exposición. Sucesiones crea un camino hacia una crítica discursiva alrededor de temas que impactan a las comunidades marginalizadas, oprimidas por las políticas hegemónicas, domésticas e internacionales, de los Estados Unidos. La exposición muestra un nuevo grupo de pinturas abstractas de gran colorido, collages y textiles (quilts) creadas en 2020 y 2021 entre San Juan, Puerto Rico (lugar de nacimiento de Robles-Gordon) y Washington, DC (donde vive actualmente).

Durante el apogeo de la pandemia causada por COVID-19, las estrategias creativas de Robles-Gordon fueron directamente impactadas como resultado de haber permanecido en San Juan.  La falta de acceso a materiales y las difíciles circunstancias que debió confrontar en Puerto Rico y a su regreso a Washington, DC, sirvieron de catalítico a Robles-Gordon para improvisar el enfoque usado para crear obras para esta exposición. Mas aún, la experiencia elevó su entendimiento de como comunidades al margen son tratadas de manera adversa durante momentos de crisis.

Robles-Gordon también usa las obras mostradas en Sucesiones para explorar las historias, narrativas personales y estéticas de mujeres del Caribe, particularmente de descendencia africana, en un esfuerzo por investigar las implicaciones políticas, socio-económicas y ambientales de construir espacios, política colonial contemporánea y nociones de ciudadanía en estos grupos sociales. El debate sobre la transformación del Distrito de Columbia en Estado, similar a Puerto Rico, ha sido un punto prevalente de contención en el Distrito, pero raramente forma parte de la conversación nacional. Robles-Gordon busca usar su propio patio (“backyard”) como una metáfora para expandir nuestro conocimiento de las nociones de libertad y justicia.

Un catálogo completamente ilustrado con ensayos de Ossei-Mensah y Noel Anderson y programas presenciales y virtuales acompañarán la exposición, enriqueciendo la experiencia del espectador.

y mi bandara

y mi bandera vuela mas alto que la tuya, 2020. Mixed media collage on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Reflexiones

Reflexiones sobre el yo, la virgen maría y el colonialismo, 2020. Mixed media, collage on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

USVI Political

USVI Political, 2021. Front. Mixed media on quilt, 90 x 86 in. Courtesy of the artist.

DC Political Welcome to the District of Colonialism

DC Political, Welcome to the District of Colonialism, 2021. Front. Mixed media on quilt, 90 x 86 in. Courtesy of the artist.

USVI Spiritual Moko Jumbie

USVI Spiritual, Back, Moko Jumbie: Walk Tall and Heal Forward, 2021. Mixed media on quilt, 90 x 86 in. Courtesy of the artist.

sketch collage

Sketches done throughout residency in Puerto Rico, 2019-20.

Works in Robles-Gordon's studio

Works in Robles-Gordon's studio.

About the artist

Amber Robles-Gordon is a mixed media visual artist of Puerto Rican and West Indian heritage. She is known for her commissioned temporary and permanent public art installations for numerous government agencies, institutions, universities, and art fairs.

Robles-Gordon has over twenty years of experience exhibiting and in art education, commissioned critiques, lectures, teaching, and exhibition coordination. She received a BS in business administration from Trinity University and an MFA in painting from Howard University, Washington, DC. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including Germany, Italy, Malaysia, England, and Spain. Robles-Gordon has participated in residencies in Costa Rica, Washington, DC, and at the American Academy in Rome, Italy. Her artwork has been reviewed and featured in numerous magazines, journals, newspapers, and online publications.

Most recently, she held an online solo exhibition at Galeria de Arte, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was featured by Tafeta Gallery in the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London, England, and during London Art Week. In 2022, she will create a traveling exhibition in collaboration with Cultural DC and El Cuadrado Gris Galeria in Puerto Rico.   

Visit the artist's website

About the curator

Larry Ossei-Mensah uses contemporary art as a vehicle to redefine how we see ourselves and the world around us. A Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic, Ossei-Mensah has organized exhibitions and programs at commercial and nonprofit spaces around the globe from New York City to Rome, featuring artists including Firelei Baez, Allison Janae Hamilton, Brendan Fernades, Ebony G. Patterson, Modou Dieng, Glenn Kaino, Joiri Minaya and Stanley Whitney. Moreover, Ossei-Mensah has actively documented cultural happenings featuring the most dynamic visual artists working today, including Derrick Adams, Mickalene Thomas, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Federico Solmi, and Kehinde Wiley.

A native of The Bronx, Ossei-Mensah is also the co-founder of ARTNOIR, a 501(c)(3) and global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class. ARTNOIR endeavors to celebrate the artistry and creativity of Black and Brown artists around the world via virtual and in-person experiences. Ossei-Mensah was a contributor to the first-ever Ghanaian Pavilion for the 2019 Venice Biennial with an essay on the work of visual artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Ossei-Mensah is the former Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at MOCAD in Detroit and currently serves as Curator-at-Large at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), where he curated the New York Times heralded exhibition Let Free Ring and A Return: Liberation as Power respectively.       

Ossei-Mensah has been profiled in publications including the New York Times, Artsy, and Cultured Magazine, and was recently named to Artnet’s 2020 Innovator List. Follow him on Instagram at @larryosseimensah and Twitter at @youngglobal.