Rashaad Newsome is having a moment. The New Orleans–born artist—a prolific creator of performance art, videos, music, and collages—has long engaged with issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and African-American identity. Now, his latest series spotlights the trans body in a new show called “Stop Playing in My Face!”
The eye-catching collages, on view at De Buck Gallery in New York, mix and mash human bodies and faces with natural objects (ripe fruit, bright-orange flames), architectural elements (like the façade of a mosque), and, perhaps most noticeably, flashes of pop culture and hip-hop, from tricked-out cellphones to supersized jewels.
This is just the latest episode in Newsome’s dynamic career. You might recall the King of Arms Ball, Newsome’s annual celebration of the LGBT ballroom scene that flourished in New York during the 1960s and ’70s. Or last December’s King of Arms Miami, an over-the-top performance-art parade featuring dancers, dirt bike riders, and a marching band—“a parade of blackness and all of its beauty,” Newsome has said. It was all part of the grand opening to “Unrealism,” an exhibition jointly curated by art world titans Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian. The project, Newsome said, was “about making visible people who are not as visible, specifically in the context of Miami Basel.”
Blackness, beauty, community, equality, glamour—these are the hallmarks of Newsome’s practice, and his latest collages fit right in. Within the ballroom scene, Newsome has been particularly interested in the dance form known as voguing. Much of his past work, including a filmed performance featured in a 2010 exhibition at the Whitney, incorporates the dance and its star performers. “Stop Playing in My Face!” uses those same dancers—primarily trans women of color—as its subjects, though their faces and forms are wildly abstracted, then bordered by decorative frames inspired by the collection of Dutch masterworks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fittingly, given their expertise, these dancers aren’t just stagnant models for collages on a wall. The New York exhibition also features a titular four-minute film in which the collages’ characters come to life in animation, paired with an original score Newsome created in collaboration with L.A.-based DJ and producer Hit Maker Chinx.
In the video, the voguers mix with the likenesses of feminist author bell hooks and trans activist Janet Mock. As in the collages, it’s difficult to tell where one figure or face ends and another begins. There’s bling and beauty, and maybe a bit of horror, as if you, the viewer, just walked into a nightmarish party, and it’s bangin’.
By Bridget Gleeson