Elevate at 21c showcases the work of artists in the greater St Louis community, highlighting the range and depth of visual culture in this dynamic, ever-changing city. Multiple perspectives on the world and on identity shape the practices of St Louis-based artists Quinn Antonio Briceño and Yvonne Osei. Both are strongly influenced by their experiences of immigration and their culturally blended personal identities, as well as by the challenges faced by those who have made similar journeys.
Quinn Antonio Briceño
“I am a guisado, a stew, a savory blend of ingredients from two worlds: One of Nicaragua, and the other of the United States, “says Quinn Antonio Briceño. Through his artwork, Briceño attempts to embrace the duality of his cultural identity and tenuously working to blend them without discarding either, and creating “a new space where those who feel they must discard a part of themselves can belong.” Briceño portrays subjects who may otherwise be overlooked, trading “isolation for acceptance, inclusion, appreciation, and empowerment.” In Tender La Ropa, a woman hangs clothing out to dry, her own top is a collage of “Made in the USA” stickers, the artist declaring her of this country. In El Jardinero, La Vendedora de Maceteras, and El Plomero, each title stating the subject’s trade, the figures wear halos or kneel in their work as if in prayer.
Bold patterns and subtle collage elements add layers and visual texture in Briceño’s work, while striking backgrounds of Nicaraguan tile patterns place his subjects both within and outside of their surroundings, as some of the collaged elements state they are of the USA, but also of another homeland. Briceño says:
Alongside painting, I am very invested in the traditions of collage because it allows me to take society’s scraps of discarded material and my own personal history to create a new environment: one that celebrates who I am, and by extension, who my subjects are. My work examines both my struggle with identity and shows how I came to be the person I am today. Yo soy Nicaragüense. Yo soy Estadounidense. It is my own personal histories and experiences that are the ingredients that create the guisado that is my artwork, and by focusing on those who are marginalized and forgotten, I hopefully create for them another seat at the table.
For me, doors are a metaphor for access, who is allowed in a room and who is not. Who is invited to sit at a table in conversation, in decision making, and in the very shaping of history and who is erased and forgotten… it’s all about learning to unlearn, certain Euro-centric narratives continue to burden me. I want to include the perspectives of others, who have been silenced.
A German-born Ghanaian artist, Yvonne Osei examines beauty, colorism, and the residual legacies of colonialism. Through her conceptual art, she “brings creative encounters into public space in unexpected ways.” In her Breaking Seals series, Osei interacts with building entrances in Paris, France, in order to expand and challenge commonly accepted historical narratives. In this series, the symmetry, strong lines, and old-world textures of the surrounding architecture are disrupted by the artist’s own form. Often wearing clothing charged with symbolic or historic meaning (here, a Ghanaian school uniform), she acts out many different roles: gatekeeper, landlord, homeowner, and visitor. In Breaking Seals Briser La Limit #132 she appears dwarfed by the doors, but resilient, still pulling at the knob and fully present in sun drench colors. Though the doors seem swallow her in Breaking Seals Briser La Limit #140, her brightly colored shoes indicate a vibrant strength, as does her determined gaze in. Breaking Seals Briser La Limit #52, The artist symbolically enacts her own experiences as a self-proclaimed “outsider artist making insider art,” and represents the larger “influence of colonialism and Western education on the West African psyche” as she, dressed as a schoolgirl, opens or attempts to enter various sets of enormous doors throughout European capital cities.
Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery