Sitting thirty-by-thirty-six inches, a genial blue figure draped in a quilted blanket extends its hand toward the doorway of the InLiquid gallery. Wearing a broad red smile, Carolina Marin Hernandez’s ceramic vessel Cobija de Culitos (2022) is a sightline into the 2023 Wind Fellowship Exhibition, featuring ten emerging artists living and working in the Philadelphia region. An array of colors, Cobija de Culitos is at once distinct against the white plinth, pillar, and walls that frame it. Hernandez employs playfulness, form, and color to “disrupt the association of Indigenous, Black, and Brown culture with muted earth tones.” Using clay and corn husks, materials familiar from her birthplace in Columbia, she reimagines traditional South American Valdivian statuettes as vibrant and textured “guardians.” Opposite Cobija de Culitos is the bright orange and comically frowning Le dio la chiripiorca (2022), who is in every way its counterpart. Created as expressions of Hernandez and her community, these guardians are intended to be positioned and understood in relation to one another. Spanish titles accompany each piece, simultaneously enriching and obscuring the works' meaning depending on the degree to which the language is understood. Eschewing standard Latinidad cultural identifiers, Hernandez’s guardians do not advocate for a homogeneous societal culture but rather create a visual platform to explore racial identity's opaque and complex underpinnings. Hernadez maintains that “any place [the guardians] occupy is an open invitation to join them.” With a gesture conveying openness and welcome, Hernandez’s Cobija de Culitos beckons visitors to transverse the threshold of both the physical gallery space and personal categories of understanding to engage in an exhibition rich with conversions of self, others, and the world.
The 2023 Wind Fellowship Exhibition is a partnership between the Dina Wind Art Foundation and InLiquid Art and Design, two organizations whose mission is to support artists' professional advancement. The denotation “emerging” classifies an artist as early in their career, where exposure to the industry of art critics, galleries, and collectors is essential to shaping their future. An exhibition in this manner allows industry professionals to discover new talents and invest in the progression of an artist’s life work. It is no secret that artists like Jackson Pollock became household names through the support of patrons such as Peggy Guggenheim. But beyond the practical opportunity for public attention, an exhibition of emerging artists reflects and embodies the mood and spirit of our times. The 2023 Wind Fellows respond to a social climate grappling with the tension between longing for familiarity amidst global disruptions and recognizing the need for substantial changes to move forward. As farmers turn the soil to aerate it and make space for new seeds, this exhibition locates each artist in the project of recontextualization. Using a variety of mediums, these artists address themes of identity, femininity, materiality, and environment.
Bookended by the work of Hernandez, the leftmost walls of the gallery feature four portraits pregnant with personalities. Set against a teal background just shy of the edge of the canvas, in Athena Scott’s Look Back and Wonder (2022), four black men sit beside each other, wearing suits and hats dating to the early 20th century. Gazing forward, one man slumps down, holding his face with his palm. Look Back and Wonder uses the back-and-white photograph Four Young African American Men sitting on Bench, Waco, Texas, USA (1939) by Russell Lee as a reference photo. Russell Lee worked as a photojournalist for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, documenting the economic status of America during the Great Depression. Not given names, the photograph shows the men in front of a brick wall painted with the word “VISITORS.” Portraiture has much to do with identity, often placing the person being painted or photographed, called the sitter, alongside objects and in contexts representative of their status or occupation. If portrayed at all, the black sitter was routinely placed on the periphery, left unnamed, or used as a chiaroscuro to highlight the white sitter. As a black painter, Scott reclaims the image of Four Young African American Men sitting on Bench in her reconstitution of it. The four men are rendered life-size on a sixty-by-one-hundred-twenty-inch panel. Placing the figures on the same plane as the viewer affirms the personhood of the men, as opposed to being objects of representation. Scott draws attention to each man's gaze by concentrating detail on each face while their bodies vacillate between fully painted forms and sketched lines. These direct gazes dictate a response. Look Back and Wonder is a pronouncement to consider the men as more than mere visitors, invoking curiosity as a restorative measure. Who are these men? What are their names?
On the adjacent wall hang two works by Dara Haskins from her most recent series, Taste. Haskins creates what she refers to as “memory paintings.” Inspired by her travels to the Caribbean, she composes lush scenes that combine tropical flora with present locations from her home in Philadelphia. Using bold and vibrant colors, Haskins paints black figures reveling in their surroundings. She refers to her work as “an exploration of color. Of People of Color. Of environments of color”. Coconut Waters xxx (2022) is a portrait of a man sitting back on his knees, arching his back in a reclining posture of ease with a palm tree overhead. Primarily using blues and green, Haskins shows the man basking in the light coming from above. At times, his skin appears transparent, merging with the background. This detail, regularly present in Haskins’ work, calls attention to the importance of place. Haskins’ figures are not simply planted in scenery but are inseparable from the land they inhabit. Surrounding the man is an invisible wind carrying cowrie shells and rhinestones, motifs representing worth, value, and the flow of ancestral energy. Haskins' figure reclines in the unabashed declaration of self-worth in direct defiance to old portraits where black figures were regularly disregarded as persons of value. At once intimate and powerful, Coconut Waters xxx is an unreserved portrayal of freedom, joy, and satisfaction, evoking the idiom “taste and see.”
Contrasting the dynamic of these paintings is Hamilton Street (Vine) (2018) by Meg Wolensky. Like the paintings by Haskins, Hamilton Street (Vine) depicts a central figure surrounded by vegetation. In Wolensky’s painting, however, the figure turns away from the viewer, their green shirt melting into the dark green of the shadowed plants behind them. Light-toned leaves make up the foreground of the painting, forcing the figure further into the background. Wolenksy maintains that their painting is a practice of re-imagining healing. The work is a culmination of personal history that explores queer identity, relationships, and a complex post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. These paintings “create a suspension between pasts and presents, honoring both personal stories and collective histories.” Described as “the moment when you turn and walk away from an abusive relationship,” Hamilton Street (Vine) reclaims agency as an act of resistance and self-love. In the vein of contemporary portrait artists such as Kehinde Wiley, Scott, Haskins, and Wolenksy use historical references -personal and global- to re-assert voices historically undervalued and unrecognized as stories of power, belonging, and healing.
While Hamilton St (Vine) is a portrait, Wolensky’s two other paintings in the exhibition are executed as still life. In the vein of Dutch vanitas, the objects and backgrounds Wolensky chooses to include are symbolic. Hanging on the same wall of the gallery, Premonition (2018) and Vigil (Dip-Dye) (2022) replace traditional monochrome backgrounds with cloudscapes. These paintings contrast side-by-side, the former with subdued tones and a foreboding grey, the latter with the pink sky of daybreak. In the progression of these paintings, Wolensky moves physically and thematically away from the hidden figure of Hamilton Street (Vine). Three objects float in the center of Vigil (Dip-Dye): a mug evocative of the female form, a candle dip-dyed red, hot pink, blue, and green, and a photograph. The term vigil is associated with spirituality and loss, as in keeping a vigil for those who have passed on, and the objects recall memorials where people light candles and leave gifts and pictures. Against these objects is a dawn cloudscape with yellow, red, and hot pink light streaming from behind a blue cloud. Hot pink is a color Wolensky uses throughout her work as a “deconstruction and reassembling of femininity.” By incorporating hot pink in the candle and the sky, Vigil (Dip-Dye) is contextualized as an outworking of grief while celebrating what is to come and the dawning of a new era.
To the right, four digital paintings titled Love Letter (2021) by Shahvteeaylah Williams show the faces of four black women surrounded by yellow flowers. Bright, colorful, and full of whimsy, the women display different hairstyles such as braids and extensions, long eyelashes, and full lips. Hands with acrylic nails and jewelry frame the faces, whose expressions convey self-satisfaction. This quadriptych is an unapologetic celebration of beauty, reveling in and affirming what it means to be a black woman. The work locates power and presence within femininity and not at the expense of it. Williams describes the work by saying, “The pieces are a love letter to myself, to my community, to black women, black femininity, and black beauty culture. I made them in admiration of the way we always lift each other up. I wanted to give a glimpse of how I see myself and other women in my community.” The dream-like quality of the work produces a natural softness not held in tension with the strength the women exude. In this way, Williams “illustrate(s) the grace and beauty of contemporary black feminine cultural aesthetics on black bodies…recontextualizing black femininity to outsiders.”
Magdalena Rieder’s sixty-by-sixty-inch painting Within/Without (2023) hangs in the gallery alcove. A mural painter who works in Los Angeles, CA, New York, NY, and Philadelphia, PA, Rieder’s painting is moving away from her trademark size and style. On canvas rather than a wood panel or a wall, the painting depicts a woman in the foreground wearing an intricate white lace blouse in contrast to the dark, ominous clouds behind her. The figure takes up most of the canvas, mimicking the size of a public mural in the confines of the gallery walls. Often using depictions of animals or Greco-Roman statues as symbols within her work, in Within/Without Rieder opts for a more ambiguous reading, reflecting on the duality of life experiences and perhaps the emotions experienced within those. “While I often have a specific idea that I'm trying to convey in my work, I want my audience to remember that art is open to interpretation. I love to hear what others' responses are to my work, even if their interpretations are very different from my own. To me, that's the beauty of art.”
On the gallery's far wall, spaced with windows, hangs work by artists Kimberly Neff and Samara Weaver. Coming from backgrounds in advertising and architecture, respectively, both artists engage with materiality as expressions of the invisible forces of spirituality and emotion. For Neff, creating art is directly linked to her spiritual practice. Akin to abstract expressionism, Neff’s work is concentrated within the emotionality and process of its creation. Each piece is produced in short bursts, followed by reflection and contemplation. Neff explains, “Art is about stillness - and in the quiet of your mind you can see, or feel the work. It's super meditative for me - and I tend to be more actively working when I'm suffering in some capacity.” As seen in Cherry Blossoms (2021), whose composition features white lines created by spray paint against a soft purple and pink background, Neff incorporates quick gestures and free-flowing lines with large color blocks. This method involves materials that allow her flexibility in application, such as spray paint, ink, acrylic, paint, and gold leaf. By exhibiting her spiritual practice, Neff renegotiates the division between public and personal, inviting viewers to connect to their emotional intuition.
In contrast to Neff, Samara Weaver’s practice begins with a consideration of the material. I’m Fine (2022) and I Think I’m Losing It (2022) are two “sculptural watercolors,” a method invented by Weaver that fuses painterly explorations of color with three-dimensional forms traditionally associated with wood, metal, and glass. For each piece, Weaver systematically hand-paints hundreds of feet of trace paper before manipulating them within frames to give a sense of movement. This labor-intensive process ensures that each sheet of paper is handled multiple times. Weaver experiences this intimate engagement with each component as an embodiment of self. The emphasis on color over shape and vice versa depends on the sculpture's intended representation. The two pieces in the exhibition illustrate specific emotional landscapes around mental health. In I’m Fine, layers of pale pink bleed into a center of purple, gray, and black, telling a story of hidden emotion beneath a calm exterior. I Think I’m Losing It contains a muted palette that allows the sculpture's form to take precedence. Strips of trace paper spill out of the frame, the body unable to constrain what is inside.
Weaver describes her art practice as “functional acts of doing,” wherein she works material from its base element into a functional end. Artifacts, Untitled 1-3 (2022) integrate hand-spun yarn and hand-built porcelain into wall-mounted ceramic sculptures. Lace from Weaver’s mother textures the porcelain, with puffs of wool and yarn woven through. In her title, Artifacts, Weaver links clay with archaeological finds of past peoples and cultures. In that space, a banal ceramic pot or plate becomes a treasure to preserve. By combining clay and fibers, Weaver’s sculptures weave the temporary into the permanent. Through Artifacts, the concept of the relic becomes a receptacle for exploring connection to family and loss of heritage, suggesting that what appears to be mundane can be extraordinary.
Situated on the far right wall of the gallery, artists Stephanie Van Riet and Lisa Jungmin Lee explore materiality and process concerning external structures found in the world. On the left, Van Riet’s Earthshine (2022) overlays the wall from ceiling to floor in over one-hundred blue tiles of varying shades. Each tile stands twelve-and-a-half by eleven inches, covered in marks similar to the lines of a topographical map. Taken as a whole, Earthshine emulates the sensation of staring into a churning ocean. The installation comes from Van Riet’s ongoing exploratory research of the trails routinely left by sea snails on beaches during low tide. Using personal photo documentation, Van Riet recreates the tracks on plaster cast tiles. These tiles are then painted with a cyanotype solution and placed in the sun for staggered amounts of time, resulting in a display of blue, white, and indigo. In transferring the ephemeral tracks of a creature as small as a sea snail onto a wall, Van Riet undertakes a grandiose act of preservation, magnifying a quotidian occurrence to a level of great worth and consideration.
Balancing Earthshine is Lisa Jungmin Lee’s Midnight Voyage (2022). One-hundred-eight inches long, Midnight Voyage is a tri-color screenprint on fabric. Hanging the length of the wall, the fabric consists of a repeating pattern that combines architectural elements with flowing curves. Against a teal background, brick bridges line either side of the material, creating the impression of a waterway. Inside the channel are two rivers undulating vertically and horizontally that contain images of buildings. Echoing tales like Toy Story and The Brave Little Toaster, Midnight Voyage is Lee’s imagining of a city that changes while people sleep. She writes: “Before sunrise, while everyone is asleep, a city dances and mingles around to reshape their forms and structures without anyone seeing or knowing it. Once the sun rises, they need to be put back together so that humans can maintain their daily life. It is a city’s secret life during the dawn when everything is stopped.” Drawing inspiration from her childhood in urban Seoul, South Korea, as well as experiences in other cities like Rome and her current home of Philadelphia, Lee’s work explores the unseen elements of cities. Using the layers involved in printmaking to tell a story of time and space, Lee offers a fresh perspective on the cityscape as we know it and advocates for imagination as a tool of change.
Each generation rethinks the boundaries of their craft, using the moldering ideas of what was as fertilizer to push the field in new directions and incorporate new voices. As seen in the faces of the workers in French painter Jean Francois Millet’s 1866 Two Men Turning over the Soil, tilling the ground is a laborious task requiring great resolve. The 2023 Wind Fellowship Exhibition presents a collective statement of artists resolutely exerting themselves, their passions, and their art to bring about something new. By virtue of the Dina Wind Art Foundation, Inliquid Art and Design, and other supporters, this exhibition advocates for the essentiality of artists in our world. As Hernadez's Cobija de Culitos indicates, this show is not solely for those who have created it but for us all. Whoever you are, wherever you are emerging from, you are welcome into this space.