November 6 through December 18, 2021
By GARY BREWER, November 2021
Umar Rashid is an artist who is taking on a herculean task: to examine through the lens of history, the rise and fall of empires- the revolutions and upheavals that have shaped the world in which we live, and to hold them up to look at through tears of sorrow and humor. These are not laments about the tragedies that have unfolded like a river of blood cutting through the landscape of history. By looking through the lens of historical time and with a heart large enough to encompass this theater of folly, Rashid uses humor and wit to unravel the cycles of human suffering.
Rashid works as an artist/shaman, a trickster making fun of our hubris and arrogance, examining how we constantly embrace beliefs in which one group is superior over another, and how much suffering this brings into our world. He creates alternate histories using fragments of various cultures and myths. Egyptian, Western European colonialism, Roman, Greek, African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Indigenous stories are all mixed together in a stream of consciousness with the cadences of hip hop and jazz, allowing him to free-form his way into fractured historical fantasies. These imaginary tales speak of cycles of tragedy- that there is no end to this reciprocating narrative of the oppressed and the oppressor switching roles with each rise and fall in the tides of history, unless we step back and see the absurdity of it all.
For this exhibition, Rashid uses a mythical tale of a war in Western America between Indigenous people (who shape-shift into various animals and are capable of space travel), New Spain, The Franciscan and Jesuit Mission Control System, and an imaginary Frenglish occupier. Rashid’s strategy is to bring a higher level of understanding to our world using humor. Not cynical irony, but as Rashid said, “I see myself in the role of a jester, the trickster- that only by seeing how ridiculous this all is, can we step back and search for some kind of cosmic justice.”
The show has a rich arsenal of works that express ideas in a diverse range of approaches and styles. There is a series of portraits that are simple and straightforward, where the likeness of the individuals is captured with a lightness and ease. These portraits fill one end of the gallery and act as an audience to the many portals that open up to endlessly rich narratives. Rashid uses layers of history: art history, mythologies and slang from our world- graffiti, folk art, and history painting, all jockey for a place in these rich amalgams of content. His titles are short stories in themselves that evoke a range of associations in the drama of human folly and tragedy, as in the title, Toine, the Lord of Baltimore (in California), crouched with his fancy, rose-colored lenses and his gaiters on, ready for someone to say something foolish. (2021).
In the painting, The Battle of Coachella Part 1. Day 1. The Triumvirate turn against their former comrades in a daring daylight raid, goaded on by misinformation with new conversion therapists sent from a crippled mission control. Mariachis play a dirge at the end. (2021), Rashid is in full swing. In this painting, layers of history fill the mind with symbols and ciphers from both real and imagined worlds, all the while a Mariachi band keeps the energy alive. These powerful complex compositions comprised of a multitude of narratives, is a visual cacophony that reaches into the depths of the imagination, in a William Burroughs-like broken collage of known and unknown worlds, held together by the rhythmic cadence of the delivery.
Rashid is fascinated with the power of heraldic symbols, as in the painting, Deus in absentia. Or, in the absence of god, just wait for some mediocre, human being to come along and fuck things up. The shepherd of colonizers and the lord of the conquered. (2021). It is a bold red and white symmetrical array of symbols whose mix of familiar and arcane references assert a sadly familiar narrative in the woeful drama of our world. Rashid is a jester, revealing just how ridiculous this all is, as well as a chronicler of sad truths.
The title for the show En Garde/On God, is a riff on both the idea to be alert and ready, as well as a colloquialism from African American cultural patois. ‘On God’ is said when someone wants to emphasize that something is true. With humor and pathos, Rashid seeks to hold for a moment something true, and with the shamanic wink of a trickster, how we can proceed to seek a higher justice that does not repeat the endless cycles of the history of sorrow in our world. WM