Art Files: Alexis Peskine

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Bornday: September 29, 1979
Birthplace: Paris, France
Medium: Mixed Media (installation, video/digital, photography)
Alma Mater: Howard University + Maryland Institute College of Art
Relevant Themes: Race/racism, identity, representation and immigration

I had the pleasure of meeting Peskine at Wesleyan’s own student of color art show “Skittles” (hosted by my dear friends Kristin Juarez and Micaela Anaya). Kristin met Peskine at a museum in Connecticut and graciously invited him to show his work as part of the larger Skittles exhibition. Peskine spoke to the difficulties of being an artist of color inside and outside the United States specifically in regards to protecting our perspective(s) against co-optation by the “Maintstream” or “Whitestream” as he cleverly put it. He radiates a warmth that I rarely find in up and coming artists prone to tragic egoism. Here is an excerpt from his artist statement to give you insight into his point of view:

“No matter how you define yourself, you have two identities: your true identity and the one society gives you. When I was a child, I was simply the son of Alain and Anna—I never looked at my father as Franco-Russian or my mother as Afro-Brazilian. But to France, the country of my and my father’s birth, I was, and still am, “issu de l’immigration,” or a child of immigration. It’s their “politically correct” terminology for Black or Arab, which in Paris is synonymous with being from the ghetto, being an outsider. Of course, Africans, Arabs and other immigrants who’ve worked and fought for France are no less French than white French.

In my work I want to point out the absurdity of racism, nationalism, anti-Semitism—anything that’s unjust or hypocritical—by re-contextualizing iconic symbols, putting them in odd pairings in unexpected environments. Hopefully these jarring juxtapositions will catch the viewer’s attention, and cause them to ask themselves questions about the issues facing marginalized populations not only in France, but throughout the world.”

Peskine echoes Ligon’s desire to re-contextualize iconic symbols in unexpected places to create new complex meaning(s). I find his work with nails striking and powerful (it’s also an original technique I haven’t seen anywhere else). Take a look at these works:

Identité

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Here is a closer look at the nail technique:

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Maezinha

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Obviously, the process of filing each nail head to the necessary size/shape is a tedious, detail-oriented art. I find both his patience and perspective impressive. While “Identité” addresses racial profiling by police in Paris and the United States as a pervasive theme in the lives of African people (across borders), “Maezinha” highlights “the positivity and energy and creativity that came through the struggle of Black people” (quote from Peskine in Connecticut Art Scene). I had the good fortune of seeing more of Peskine’s work in New York with my Contemporary Art class in an exhibit on Garveyism at Rush Arts gallery. The following is a photograph of Peskine’s provocative piece:

Freed

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“In “Freed Alexis Peskine alludes to Garvey’s attempt at uniting blacks in the African Diaspora. Each of the bars of soap represents the major groups of Blacks in America and critiques the notion of an all-encompassing black identity that ignores the subtleties of ethnicity, culture, and language. As part of a series, “Freed” also references the history of nationalist rhetoric sold as useful commodity a la the United States’ Ivory Soap and Britain’s Imperial Leather soap. Peskine’s work all serve as reminders that the revolution starts in the home.” — Rush Arts Gallery, Garveyism

Though the exhibit showcased other striking multi-media pieces by a host of dynamic artists of color, I reacted strongest to Peskine’s. I respect the risks he takes to provoke audiences and the quality of his many crafts. Surely, the range and flexibility apparent in his portfolio speaks to his talent as an artist/craftsmen as well as his clarity and commitment to challenging viewers. Each piece asks a difficult question–opening old wounds even wider. For more information and to see when/if Peskine is exhibiting in a city near you hit up his MySpace and personal website. Support good art and change the direction of the stream…

Word?

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