Western Project is pleased to present the second solo exhibition by Jessica Wimbley. The Belle Series is a group of digital works on canvas based on ideas of origin: biological, genetic, cultural and historic. Working on multiple conceptual levels and visual modes, the series is hauntingly narrative and subjective. Her constructs also use 'biomythography' (originally a literary form created by the poet Audre Lorde) which blends elements of autobiography, the novel and personal mythology. It weaves together these elements into new kinds of representational compositions. She writes:
In my work, I investigate and question identity and history, merging both the genetic and biological with socio-historical, creating narratives that shift between micro and macro representations. The one-drop rule -a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as Black of individuals with any African ancestry; i.e. any person with "one drop of Negro blood" was considered black, is used as a framework to consider the formation of identity. The one-drop rule is still utilized in forming understanding of race in America, however, is problematized in an era of shifting demographics, integration, and multi consciousness. Furthermore, the information contained in the "one drop" of blood in conjunction with contemporary understandings of genetics and anthropology reveals implicit and explicit identities; with subsequent narratives that reveal differing yet simultaneous histories. By investigating the one-drop rule at a micro level (DNA and genetic information contained) to a macro level (origin of humanity) the African diaspora is reframed in the context of the African as the original colonizer and explorer of the earth. Using aesthetic elements such as collage, digital imagery, appropriation, panoramic landscapes and space imagery, as well as images of microscopic biological entities, including t cells, melanin, stem cells, and DNA, provides both a conceptual and visual metaphor for the macro and micro- galvanizing what is seen and unseen, and questioning the scope of the human experience and identity. The figure in these narratives straddles both objectification and subjectification, as a result, creating narratives that conjure multiple histories through the codification of landscape, objects, and the body.
Literary references to science fiction novels by Octavia Butler, as well as popular culture media are used to compose narrative, in conjunction with photographic images, painting and drawing. The hybridity of images in the work reflect the way in which one composes culture in the digital age, integrating gazes by reflecting the mass consumption and democracy of the internet. The finished work reflects historical artistic approaches of painting and drawing with Photoshop, collage and digital photography, itself becoming a hybrid.
The Belle Series continues the investigation of identity by integrating images of myself with my grandmother, great grandmother, and other relatives dating back to the early 1900's and historical stereographic images of Native and Black American women from the Turn of the Century. The stereograph, being a popular medium for disseminating images of Americans during the Turn of the Century, was also instrumental in helping create visual representations of American life and inform American identity. Through the merging of images, I seek to create a hybrid, which exposes the shifting of identities in relationship to both historical and social political understandings.
The five canvases in the exhibition are but a portion of The Belle Series. They are masterful meditations on ancestry and heritage; becoming universal musings by the shifting micro/macro, intimate/cosmic imaging. Her pictures present an unorthodox way of looking at family; challenging notions of authorship and lineage - perhaps a most useful set of windows to reconsider our limited definitions and assumptions about who we think we are, and the stories we believe.
Jessica Wimbley is the co-curator and participant of the upcoming exhibition, Biomythography Secret Poetry and Hidden Angers, at the East and Peggy Phelps Galleries, Claremont Graduate University Claremont, CA. Her work was recently featured in "The Beautiful: Contemporary Art Featuring America" curated by Rachel T. Schmid, at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA, and "ANEKANTAVADA Diverse Perspectives in Art" curated by Karin Skiba and Quinten Bemiller at Norco College Gallery, Norco College, Norco, CA. She has also shown at Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art, Chaffey College, Rancho Cucamonga, CA, the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art in Athens Georgia, California State University at Long Beach, California, National Palace of Culture/Lessedra Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria, 21st Century African Youth Movement, Sierra Leon, Africa, and other galleries and institutions in the United States.
The artist lives and works in Claremont, California.