Pace Gallery presents Fred Wilson: Afro Kismet, an exhibition featuring the artist’s most recent body of work originally produced for the 15th Istanbul Biennial in the autumn of 2017.
The exhibition is Wilson’s first at Pace London. On the occasion of Afro Kismet, Pace will publish a catalogue that will include an introduction by artist duo and Istanbul Biennial curators Elmgreen & Dragset, an essay by the Biennial’s Director Bige Örer, and an interview with the artist conducted by American novelist, playwright and essayist Darryl Pinckney.
The genesis of the exhibition stretches back to 1992 when Wilson presented Re:Claiming Egypt, at the 4th International Cairo Biennale and to 2003 when Wilson represented the United States at the 50th Venice Biennale with Speak of Me as I Am. Wilson’s interest in Istanbul had been piqued for a long time; he conceived of the city as the third leg in a historically and culturally connected eastern Mediterranean triangle which also included Cairo and Venice. Through his research, Wilson developed a conceptual basis for the Istanbul project in which he contextualized pieces from the city’s Pera Museum’s Orientalist collection with new and existing works of his own. “My work is about an issue which is both personal and universal. […] A new meaning emerges from the coming together of art and history […] bring[ing] a fresh perspective to things we are used to seeing in museums. You can say that I tell a history which is not adequately discussed…” Fred Wilson, 2017.
For Pace, Wilson will reconfigure Afro Kismet which includes two chandeliers, two monumental Iznik tile walls, four black glass drip works, and a globe sculpture, as well as installations and vitrine pieces that gather cowrie shells, engravings, photographs, a Yoruba mask, and furniture, among other objects that the artist discovered in his frequent trips to Istanbul throughout 2016 and 2017. Since Venice Biennale in 2003, Wilson’s Murano glass chandeliers, with their shifts in scale, color, and complexity, have become vehicles for the artist’s meditations on blackness, death, and beauty. New chandeliers, included in the exhibition, combine black Murano glass with traditional metal and glass elements of Ottoman chandeliers, thus fusing two histories of craftsmanship and symbolizing the complex relationship between the Venetian and Ottoman Empires.
Throughout the exhibition, Wilson utilizes alluring materials—from richly coloured tiles walls to luminescent glass—to represent and investigate the long-ignored presence of communities of African descent in Turkey. In the two Iznik tile walls, the Arabic calligraphy translates in one case to “Mother Africa” and in the other “Black is Beautiful”. The new globe sculpture titled “Trade Winds” refers not to its original meaning, related to weather patterns, but to the complex and tragic global trade in human beings. The juxtaposition of recent works by Wilson with works from the 19th century – including Orientalist paintings with African subject matter by Alfred De Dreux and William James Müller – not only questions notions of universal knowledge and truth, but also sheds light on a history not thoroughly examined. By combining contemporary objects and museum-quality artefacts, Wilson challenges the assumptions of exhibition methodology and art historical scholarship.