“Stop Playing in My Face!”—the title of both Rashaad Newsome’s show and its mesmerizing queer Afrofuturist video centerpiece—is taken from a rebuke/mantra invented by Samantha James Revlon: black trans woman, YouTube luminary, and camera-phone diarist. In Newsome’s four-minute loop, Revlon’s vivid vernacular becomes a springboard and framework for theoretical discussion. Set to an eerie dance beat, the cut-up voices of feminist cultural critics, such as bell hooks and Janet Mock, debate the practical and philosophical potentials (or pitfalls) of sexual self-commodification. Meanwhile, the nearly floor-to-ceiling projection shows a dancer in red stiletto boots and a black turtleneck leotard, voguing solo in a blankly grand virtual setting (somewhere like the Parthenon, or a mall at night). Strangely paced animated camera movements heighten the video-game feel and eventually dramatically zoom out to reveal the dancer as one of many moving parts in a cosmic entity of rotating architecture, diamonds, pearls, and giant glossy-red talking lips.
The digital collage aesthetic of this glam deity is reflected in the works on paper in the front gallery, but these pieces are constructed the old-fashioned cut-and-paste way. The artist cleverly cobbles together cyborgian figures from appropriated images of opulence—jewel-encrusted surfaces, custom rims, made-up mouths, models’ limbs, flames, and gold-domed buildings. Playing with layers and modes of realness, Newsome pairs these condensed photographic representations of fabulous excess and gendered artifice with veritable luxury materials. In YAAAAAAAS! (all works cited, 2016), a portrait of a glittering humanoid occupies an ornate octagonal frame made from black leather and automotive paint. In this sharp and effervescent show, tropes of conspicuous consumption mingle with reflections from trans and feminist voices on what it’s like to be conspicuously consumed; and Revlon’s nuanced, boundary-setting, space-making edict resonates with both interpersonal and intergalactic import.
By Johanna Fateman