April Bey: Colonial Swag April 21 to June 11, 2022 Tern Gallery Mahogany Hill, Western Road Nassau Island Nassau / Paradise Island, Bahamas
TERN Gallery is pleased to present Colonial Swag, a solo exhibition of paintings, tapestries and mixed media by artist April Bey. Raised in Nassau on the island of New Providence in The Bahamas and currently residing in Los Angeles, Bey’s interdisciplinary work combines American and Bahamian visual culture and contemporary pop culture into potent and imaginative social critique.
Her work incorporates elements of feminism, generational theory, Afrofuturism, Afro-surrealism and constructs of race within supremacist systems. TERN’s first solo exhibition of Bey’s trenchant work, Colonial Swag, will be on view from April 21 to June 11, 2022 at 7p.m.
Bey’s artworks are often crafted around the perspective of the fictional planet Atlantica, an Afrofuturist alien world which redefines Blackness outside the context of white supremacy and colonial suffering. Identified by the artist as her true point of origin, the planet was named in reference to stories her Black father told her as a way to explain racism, colourism, texturism and identity when she was a child.
From the perspective of extraterrestrial observation and interplanetary transcendence, Bey’s works free Black expression from the politics and victimization of Earth’s in grained power relations, imagining entirely separate realms and histories where no proverbial “isms” exist, glitter is currency and all inhabitants are glorious in their forms of free expression.
For her exhibition at TERN, Bey will exhibit two-dimensional mixed-media works and installations from her ongoing Colonial Swagseries. ColonialSwag is a “high-fashion luxury brand on Atlantica that uses fully sustainable, ethically mined colonialism from Earth’s developing countries to create beautiful, priceless pieces of fashion.” This iteration of the series highlights the Afro-queer community of The Bahamas and inserts them into advertising campaigns for the alien luxury label.
As in many Caribbean spaces, laws criminalizing homosexuality remain in The Bahamas as vestiges of its colonial period, leaving the LGBTQ+ community marginalized andvulnerable in absence of official forms of recognition. Incorporating fur, glitter, vinyl and woven textiles—materials rich in associative histories of queerness—Bey crafts icons around the images of real-life figures from her community, capturing acts of defiance and celebration that define a materialist aesthetic on an interstellar scale. Contrasting the works from the Colonial Swag campaign across the gallery space are two tapestries featuring détourned images of Queen Elizabeth II, appearing here behind bars hand-sewn from West African fabrics.
These arresting defacements refer both to the historic colonization undertaken by the British crown, including in The Bahamas, as well as to the greater system of oppression and power relations that imprison us all, Elizabeth II, included. Marginalizing the Queen in a gallery space of primarily Black bodies, who gaze directly outwards from their frames and pose in positions of empowered relaxation, Colonial Swag envisions our world from an Atlantican perspective, emphasizing images of freedom which break away from Elizabeth’s colonial entrapment.
Bey’s works manifest as woven tapestries, digitally woven blankets and textiles mounted on wood and encased in resin. All of her works are extremely labor intensive, with demonstrative care even in the materials used; many incorporate fabrics and elements sourced from Blackfemme-owned businesses. Bey’s titles (Bitch You Better Praise God or Imma Shoot and That’s on God, 2022, They Fine Pass Mami Wata, 2022) reference Blackness in contemporary society with free associative verve, plucking phrases from viral songs or blockbuster movies.
In contrast, her subjects are typically personal relations and close friends, chosen here as models for the Colonial Swag brand and as idealized beauty standards for the Atlantican populace. Expansively imagining a world where Earth’s hierarchies are slyly flipped or simply forgotten, Bey’s ability to seamlessly combine pop-culture elements with surrealist imagery steeped in science fiction is a testament to her power to envelope us in her world.