Two Spirits, 2019. Archival pigment photograph, 50 x 38 1/2 in. (127 x 97.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Company, New York. © John Edmonds
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“John Edmonds: A Sidelong Glance” is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition to date, featuring new and recent photographic portraits and still lifes of Central and West African sculptures that explore representation and Black identity in the African diaspora. For this exhibition, Edmonds engaged directly with the Museum’s Arts of Africa collection, photographing select objects donated to the Museum in 2015 from the estate of the late African American novelist Ralph Ellison. As the recipient of the UOVO Prize for an artist living or working in Brooklyn, Edmonds’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum is presented in conjunction with his large-scale public art installation on the UOVO: BROOKLYN facility’s façade.

Edmonds is best known for his use of photography and video to create sensitive portraits and still lifes that reimagine art historical precedents and center Black queer experiences. The exhibition starts with American Gods, a group portrait by Edmonds featuring three Black males wearing du-rags. The work introduces common themes seen throughout Edmonds’s practice, including heightened staging of his subjects, stylistic references to art history, and the use of Black cultural materials as props. These strategies are found in Edmonds’s ongoing series of photographs that often juxtapose friends and acquaintances from his creative community in New York with African masks and figures from various private collections, including the artist’s own. Many of these photographs explore the ways that European and American modernisms have been implicated in colonialism and the historical reception of African art in the United States and Europe. The exhibition goes on to include other notable works from Edmonds’s practice, including Tête de femmeWhose Hands?, and Two Spirits.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Edmonds created more than ten new photographic works featuring sculptures and masks donated to the Brooklyn Museum by the estate of the late writer Ralph Ellison, who is most well-known for his 1952 novel Invisible Man. Some of these new works by Edmonds document individual collection objects on shimmering golden backdrops, transforming the practices of museum photography by questioning its supposed neutrality; others depict models interacting with the sculptures, stylistically similar to the artist’s recent body of work. Also on display will be a commemorative figure made by an unknown Hemba artist from modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo, an object from the Ellison collection that Edmonds photographed.

A Sidelong Glance draws its title from a phrase forwarded by scholar Krista Thompson, who used it to articulate the conflicted status of African art history within contemporary Black diaspora studies. Included in the exhibition, which is located in the Museum’s Ingrassia Gallery of Contemporary Art, is a broadsheet that visitors are encouraged to take with them. This publication, made by the artist, features the image Whose Hands?, along with footnotes drawn from scholarly publications on Baule art. The exhibition will be on view from October 23, 2020 through August 8, 2021.