November 5, 1996-January 15, 1997
by Susan Hoeltzel
The work of Cathleen Lewis is, at its core, conceptual. Her installations
explore the issues of race, gender and identity through formalist abstraction
and the framework of language. Lewis probes the exteriorthe
rituals of beauty, style, and fashionfor ethnic identity, history,
and personal memory. The body is an implied source in much of the work
and hair is a constant metaphor. Mirrors, reflections, and shadows function
visually and create the illusion of an additional corporal presencethey
also include the viewer in many of the works.
Lewis is also interested in exploring how words and images
are reworked, played back or interpreted by the outside worldranging
from the "found" language in Good Presence to the shocking Mexican
ad campaign for a white sale presented in Reflected Values. Good Presence
offers a series of mirrors with silk-screened text and
images of coiffures in silhouette. The work mixes out-takes of
conversations, childhood memories, and a chronology of hairstyle from
1955, the year of Lewis' birth, to the present. Much of the work evokes
complex and paradoxical associations. In Scarification Proudly Made
in the USA, a canvas marked with hot comb burns, recalling early memories
of the familymothers, sisters and auntsand the nurturing/grooming
exercises of childhood. At the same time the work acknowledges a connection
between pain and beauty and the intervention of culture over nature. Its
title is a reminder that in part this ritual finds its meanings through
commonly held values within a community. Hot combs, curling irons, and
braids of blond and black hairpresented in 19th century museum-style
vitrines in the work Boxesread as both archaic devices of
torture and trophies on display.
Lehman College Art Gallery is pleased to present the work of Cathleen Lewis in the gallery's ongoing series, The Bronx Celebrates. This series features the work of artists who have lived, worked, or grown-up in the Bronx and has included Vito Acconci, Lawrence Weiner, Ida Applebroog, Tim Rollins + KOS, and Rigoberto Torres, among others. Lewis was born and raised in the Bronx.
The Bronx Celebrates: Cathleen Lewis was made possible through a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts Visual Arts Program. The work of so many people has contributed to the success of this project. I would like to thank Cathleen Lewis for developing this installation with us and for the time she has spent discussing her work with staff, faculty, students and the public. I would like to acknowledge Carla Chammas, Richard Desroche, and Glenn McMillan of CRG for their assistance, and Ivan Vera for his help with the installation. I would also like to thank Maria Pagliarulo, Ron Cruz, and Jennifer Buckley, the student interns; Mary Ann Siano, the associate director; Phillip Kautz, education coordinator; and Denise Mediavilla, registrar, for their efforts on this projectas always, their advice and good humor has made this project possible.
Binary Oppositions, 1995
The work begins with a specific idea, usually around issues of gender
and black identity. I then use an array of materials to actualize those
ideas. The present body of work uses text, hair, and rubber as material
as well as metaphor. I am addressing the ways in which visual images,
as well as language, past and present, have helped to shape the way "others"
see us, and ways in which we see ourselves. This "seeing" is predetermined
by prevailing ideas in the dominant culture, which is often masked and
subtly embedded into the subconscious. The site is black bodies as battleground
for this psycho-trauma, although the entire body is not often present.
It could be a specific portion of the body as in "hair," or a reference
to the body as in "savage beauty."