Detail from Jane Alexander, ‘Convoy’, photomontage (2008). © Jane Alexander
In New York’s unforgiving heat, worshippers and tourists alike breathe easy upon stepping into the cool shelter of the cavernous Cathedral of St John the Divine. As industrial fans are set to full-force, the astounding architecture and history of America’s largest church is not all that awaits visitors.
Until Monday 29th July, church guests have the opportunity to see South African artist Jane Alexander’s unusual and haunting exhibition ‘Surveys (from the Cape of Good Hope)’, taking place within the cathedral.Known for her exploration of racial and political themes stemming from the apartheid regime in her homeland, Alexander’s first major exhibition in New York can also apply to racial and cultural issues on our own home front, reignited most recently by George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of Florida teen, Trayvon Martin.
The strangeness of Alexander’s work – a collection of sculptural installations and photomontage – is enhanced by its setting in the Morningside Heights church. The installations that are found in and around the rear chapels of the cathedral bring to mind the diorama of a nativity scene; though in this case the baby Jesus and farm animals are replaced with dark imagery of half-human beasts, contorted by the forces of society. It raises questions to the viewer of what values our culture deems important and the darkness it tends to set its focus on.
Alexander’s creations while alarming at first glance, do convey a sense of hope and innocence upon further contemplation. Her contemporary works, engulfed by such traditional and familiar symbols, are well worth a visit uptown for.
The exhibition is presented in association with the Museum of African Art, and curated by Pep Subirós.
Photographs courtesy of the New York Times, Shared Interest and africasacountry.com