Amanda D. King: Root Matter, at McDonough Museum

Communion (This is my Body), photo by Amanda D. King.

Root Matter by Amanda D. King, curated by Amber N. Ford, positions Christian mythology in relation to the Black experience. The exhibition examines religion through moments of both hope and macabre, walking the line between repression and release.

King is a conceptual artist, cultural strategist, and social justice advocate who uses arts and culture to envision possibilities for transforming individuals, communities, and society. She earned her J.D. from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a B.A. in art history from Bryn Mawr College. Her multidisciplinary expertise in jurisprudence, art history, fashion, and culture inform her socially engaged practice. She was born in Pittsburgh and resides in Cleveland, where she maintains her studio practice. King works as creative director of Shooting Without Bullets, an organization that seeks to eliminate barriers faced by Black and Brown youth in the arts and society.

Gallery View. Photo by Grace Carter.

Amber N. Ford is an artist and freelance photographer based in Cleveland. She has her B.F.A. in photography from the Cleveland Institute of Art. Her work explores Blackness, identity, and culture while questioning the accepted idealized conceptualization of “truth.”

While King has exhibited recently at Foothill Galleries, and previously at Karamu, Root Matter is her first solo museum exhibition. Confrontational texts, with phrases borrowed from biblical scriptures, are paired with imagery throughout the space. The arrangement of the work echoes the layout of a church, challenging the separation of secular and sacred. Two-dimensional pieces line the walls, culminating in a prayer rug where an altar would be. A bathtub is placed where a baptismal font would usually live.

“Is dying dead?” we’re asked immediately upon entry. Is Dying Dead? sets the tone for the rest of the viewing experience, and its presence is impossible to ignore from any angle. The work evokes the incessant spiritual questioning of what comes after death. The colors used—red and black—feel as intense as the subject matter. While the question is probing, the work is oddly comforting in its realness.

Amanda D. King, Prayer Rug. Photo by Grace Carter.

Most of King’s figures are positioned facing the viewer, giving the subjects of the portraits more agency. Rather than passively observing, the audience is engaged in a two-way dialogue. King utilizes the gaze to give the sitter power. Eye contact creates a more commanding presence and invites the viewer to wonder about the sitters in the portraits—who are they and what are their stories?

Communion (This is my body) also claims power and personhood. In this work, the figure’s head is cut off from the picture plane, which would typically reduce the personality and connection in the portrait. The text, “This is my body” borrows from the ritual of the eucharist, and also reinforces that the subject of the portrait is in charge. As proof, it is presumed that the subject of the portrait has taken a bite out of the slice of bread.

Amanda D. King, Knowledge (Revisions), Resurrection (Revisions), Water (Revisions), and Grace (Revisions) Installation view. Photo by Grace Carter.

Knowledge (Revisions), Resurrection (Revisions), Water (Revisions), and Grace (Revisions) is a site-specific work that lines the spiral staircase. As we descend, we find grace—which is antithetical to the idea that the journey to hell is a trip downward through nine circles. In order to experience the piece, we must be ambulatory, creating an experience similar to a walking or moving meditation. Landing at the bottom of the staircase lends an additional layer of closure at the end of the viewing experience.

Root Matter is on view at the McDonough Museum of Art through March 4th. The McDonough Museum of Art is located at One University Plaza on the Youngstown State University campus. The Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

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