Sperone Westwater is pleased to present Shaunté Gates’ second solo exhibition at the gallery, showcasing the artist’s new series “In Light of the Hunt.” In these mixed media paintings, set loosely within the journey upriver in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war film Apocalypse Now, dreams intertwine with reality, theater and myth, drawing the viewer into what Carl Jung refers to as “The Shadow”: the aspects of our personalities that exert a powerful influence, despite our attempts at repression. Gates’ work expands this concept beyond the individual to society as a whole.
Gates creates densely layered stage-like spaces combining photos from his native Washington, D.C. with images from film and television. The artist photographs friends, family and acquaintances, transforming them into the heroes of his narratives. He manipulates these images by cutting, tearing and collaging them with history textbook pages, paint, coins and paper scraps, masterfully layering materials on wood panel.
Each work presents us with a protagonist, at times accompanied by a totem or protective spirit, who must navigate what Guy Debord called “The Spectacle”: mass media in service to capitalism and societal control. Headdresses and mass-marketed logos adorn these figures–lending them talismanic power for the journey. In Josh and the River, 2023, a helmeted figure wades through chest deep water into the receding landscape, while soldiers pulled from film stills crouch and slump as warplanes zoom overhead. Explosions light up the sky and a car burns. The wind carries poppies, a metaphor for societal opiate, as it blows back the curtain at stage left, revealing what Gates calls “the architecture of neglect.” The setting becomes an active participant in the narrative, which explores the darker aspects of human nature and society.
“In Light of the Hunt” examines the interconnectedness of mythology, propaganda through mass media and societal, spiritual and psychological warfare, highlighting how these elements shape and maintain power by influencing our beliefs, perceptions and actions. By confronting our “Shadows,” Gates reveals the power we ultimately hold in recognizing and facing those suppressed, hidden parts of ourselves in order to realize our full strength and potential as individuals and as a society.
Shaunté Gates (b. 1979) lives and works in Washington, D.C. He studied at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Bowie State University. Gates trained in traditional oil painting and representational portraiture early in his career. His subsequent experiences working in the television industry, editing video and creating motion graphics, along with his interest in the writings of social theorists including Edward Bernays, Guy Debord and Joseph Campbell, caused a profound shift in his artistic practice. His recent work employs a multidisciplinary approach, layering photography, painting, found texts and portraits, to create dreamlike landscapes that explore the labyrinthine social constructs of race, class and psychogeographical spaces people inhabit and operate within. Gates is a participating artist in the Smithsonian Institution’s “Men of Change” four-year traveling exhibition spanning ten museums, including the International African American Museum in Charleston, SC, California African American Museum, Cincinnati Underground Railroad Museum and Washington State History Museum (2019-23). His work has also been featured extensively in exhibitions in the Washington D.C. region, including STABLE (2021); American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center (2016); Honfluer Gallery (2015); 39th Street Gallery (2014); Parish Gallery (2011); The Graham Collection (2006); and Howard University (2004). He has been awarded the Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Grant (2022) and residencies with The Nicholson Project (2023), The Kennedy Center (2019) and Washington Project for the Arts (2018; 2017). Gates has work in esteemed private collections and institutions such as the Studio Museum in Harlem and Munson, Utica, NY. He has completed many public art commissions including Transcending, a painting commemorating the 140th anniversary of Howard University School of Law.
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