'WRONGED' Exhibition Comes to Galerie Marguo, Paris

The exhibit is on view Thursday, February 22nd – Saturday, March 30th, 2024.

By: Feb. 15, 2024
'WRONGED' Exhibition Comes to Galerie Marguo, Paris
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Galerie Marguo will present WRONGED, a group exhibition organized with Olivier Renaud Clément, on view from 22 February to 30 March, 2024. Gathering the works of Isabelle Armand, Winfred Rembert, and Yvonne Wells, WRONGED reflects on the failings of the American judicial system and the legacy of racial oppression in the carceral and penal practices of today.

Articulated across an array of media comprising carved and tooled leather, hand-stitched quilts, and analog photography, the figurative works in this exhibition testify to individual and collective histories of wrongful incarceration in the American South. Through material and content, they insist on the bodily presence of their subjects, like retroactive writs of habeas corpus in the court of cultural memory. Habeas corpus (literally, “that you have the body”) is a constitutional right and legal recourse against unlawful and indefinite confinement. It demands that someone imprisoned be brought before a court for fair sentencing, or otherwise set free. It is easy, after all, to forget or ignore that which we can no longer see.

At the age of 51, Winfred Rembert began chronicling his harrowing experiences of oppression, persecution, and political struggle in the Jim Crow South. Painted on carved and tooled leather, reclaiming a craft he learned in prison, Rembert's oeuvre materially evokes the ways that, in the words of PTSD expert Bessel van der Kolk, “the body keeps the score”. White Gold (2017), a highly patterned surface with alternating rows of colorfully dressed workers and bold white cotton balls, and Chain Gang Picking Cotton (2011), a tightly cropped landscape of winding black and white and green bands, play with the line between visibility and obscurity. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Chasing Me to My Grave, Rembert wrote, “People…don't recognize those stripes as people until they take a real good look. That was my goal—to put it down so you couldn't understand it until you take a real up-close look. That tells you something about prison life." Born in Americus, Georgia in 1945, Rembert's upbringing was shaped by unfathomable hardships. Abandoned by his mother and raised by a great-aunt, he experienced the exploitative and inhumane practices of sharecropping firsthand, working alongside her on cotton plantations. As a young man, after being attacked during a peaceful Civil Rights demonstration in Georgia, he fled in a stolen car, illustrated in The Getaway (2015), only to be arrested and thrown into jail. After a year without charges, Rembert managed to escape, but was caught, put inside the trunk of a police car, and narrowly survived a lynching before being sent back to prison and sentenced to hard labor.

There is no real recompense for the corruption of justice and racial persecution, but that the record should be set straight, and upheld for future generations. Yvonne Wells, a long-time educator in the Alabama Public School system, is known for her didactic ‘story quilts' that uniquely meld geometric abstraction and bold figurations. Replete with biblical iconography and historical imagery, her works highlight Alabama's fraught racial past and America's ongoing struggle for equality and justice. Quilting, long associated with women's work and the domestic sphere, and the artist's preferred pastel colorways, serve as a compelling foil to the sobering histories of violence enacted against, as well as the triumphs of African Americans in the pursuit for equal rights. In her epic 12-part work Two Accusers, Nine Accused (2014), Wells engages the infamous story of the Scottsboro Boys, one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in American history. In 1931, nine black teenagers travelling near Scottsboro, Alabama were falsely accused of raping two white women. In the first of a long series of trials, an all-white male jury sentenced eight of the nine boys to death. Over the course of many years, numerous re-trials occurred including two Supreme Court cases. One verdict resulted in securing the right to legal counsel for all African Americans. The other set a precedent for future mandatory integration of jury panels throughout the United States. In 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles issued posthumous pardons to three of the wrongfully accused boys, prompting Wells to create her own artwork the following year. Arranged in a grid formation, a title panel flanked by saccharinely sinister likenesses of the two female accusers sit above nine, hagiographic portraits of the young men, their names and ages scrawled carefully across their necks. Above each of their heads, three birds fly in a line to signify the Christian holy trinity, symbolizing the artist's faith and eternal sanctity of human life