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Rhythm & Hues

Holy Cross photography exhibit examines societal effects of clothing and music

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Rhythm & Hues
From the collection S.A.P.E.: Societe des Ambianceurset des Personnes Elegantes — Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People. (Photo: Hector Mediavilla)

Through Dec. 15, exhibits of work by Spanish photographer Héctor Mediavilla and Nuyorican photographer Christopher López are on display at the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. The exhibits were launched in tandem with an October academic conference at the college, titled “Rethinking the Afropolitan: The Ethics of Black Atlantic Masculinities on Display.”

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Lorelle Semley, a faculty member who organized the conference with colleague Rosa Carrasquillo, says, “The conference had us thinking about cosmopolitan African identities. These ongoing questions of police violence and black identity have only become more accentuated in the last year.”

Héctor Mediavilla’s exhibition, “S.A.P.E.: Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes/Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People,” captures in vivid detail the ‘Sapeurs,’ Congolese men who use dress and performance to engage with postcolonial Africa. In the early 20th century, Sapeurs used the meticulous dress and affected mannerisms of the French as a way of elevating their status. In the present day, Sapeurs are artists using sartorial canvases to comment on the political and economic hardships in the Congo.

Mediavilla’s photographs show impeccably dressed African men wearing three-piece suits of bold colors and luxurious fabrics and often framed by a deteriorating urban landscape. “Hector talks about not using the same ‘pity narrative,’ but showing people fashioning themselves in different ways,” says Semley. Despite the difficult situation around them, these men are using clothing to elevate themselves above it.

Christopher López offers a very different perspective. Curator Roger Hankins worked with López to groom the works for his exhibition, “A Visual Guide to the Heart: The Music of Ismael Rivera.” Inspired, as the name implies, by the Puerto Rican music icon, the series of works speaks to how music reflects the cultural moment of its birthplace. The artist uses images en masse to achieve the effect of rhythmic movement in his work. Three of his pieces contain 38 photographs in each composition.

Though the two photographers have radically different styles — Mediavilla displays large-scale photographs while López has honed a collage-style technique — their voices harmonize. “They speak to each other, though they’re from different backgrounds and approaches to photography,” says Hankins.

The exhibition is a perfect melding of past and present. Both artists are working actively today and their photographs feel very contemporary while also referencing history. Carrasquillo says, “It’s about the extension of colonialism in life. This was not just in the past, it’s very much still in the present.”

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