Jesse Gassongo-Alexander’s “Bloom” at Galerie Chappe

For “Bloom” by England’s Sarah Wickings.

I recently checked out a multiple-artist exposition prepared as an accompaniment to a short coming-of-age film by London’s Jesse Gassongo-Alexander (and sponsored/presented by Deli Paris Club and the magazine Paulette).

I am often drawn to figurative representations of women and interpretations of femininity, which is what compelled me to step inside the gallery in the first place. I had walked by the lively vernissage the night previous, and noticed a particularly young-looking and diverse group of people. Peering in the windows, I admired the colorful paintings, drawings and prints I could see, each somehow depicting one or a series of female figures.

When I returned to Galerie Chappe to get a closer look, I was greeted by filmmaker Jesse Gassongo-Alexander, who explained the process and concept around the exposition he’d organized. Both writer and director of a short film about a group of four female friends and their different experiences of societal and cultural pressures as they transition from adolescence to adulthood, he invited an international roster of women to read a decontextualized (no location or visual details were given) version of his screenplay, and to create artwork as a reaction to it.

These works, the individual artists, and the film itself came together and were viewed for the first time as an ensemble at the exposition’s Paris vernissage in July. Each of the 10 or so artists came from a different country and employed a slightly different technique (sculpture, illustration, graphic design, painting, photography and collage, among others) in her treatment of the subject matter. The result was interesting: graphically very diverse but with visibly common themes of gender expression, femininity, identity (confusion), sexuality, race, and, of course, coming-of-age.

These themes tend to appeal to me, and I also appreciated the style of some of the artists, particularly that of Johanna Olk and Nadia Akingbule, pictured below. I like portraits and gravitate toward them almost exclusively in my own artistic practice. I am particularly curious about the transmission of (female) expression, which inevitably lends itself to a story I can only guess at when experiencing work in a gallery, or even as distantly as via Instagram. For me to love something, there has to be a human story. I think that’s why I tend to enjoy figurative, more traditional approaches to illustration and photography; the figure/human being is (usually) already situated within the work–even if they’re only alluded to–and from there we can begin to piece together a story by investigating their posture and expression, how/if they’re interacting with their environment, where they fit into the “frame,” what else the colors and materials and techniques say about them/the work.

In addition to treatment of the above-listed themes in this exposition, having the opportunity to speak directly with the filmmaker about his vision of decontextualizing and opening art up to community was really compelling to me. Ironically (because his masculine gender identity excludes him from the very community he created)  he effectively facilitated creative storytelling around common (female) experience. Of course, he’s not entirely excluded; indeed, his directive presence and implication in a project about (young) women’s spaces and experiences renders those stories more interesting and accessible to other (young) men, and reminds us that we have to be willing to see and hear and know each other to help each other. It seems like there is a quiet activism to this exposition as a whole, which gives the title “Bloom” a meaning beyond the physical and emotional transformation of a specific group of four young women.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend a screening of the short film, but it’s official trailer can be viewed at the following link.

Some works from the exposition can be viewed at Deli Paris Club’s Instagram page [accessed 21/07/17]. I’ve included a selection here.

Painting for “Bloom” exposition by Spain’s Claudia Montes.
For “Bloom” by French graphic and tattoo artist Johanna Olk.
For “Bloom” by artist Nadia Akingbule.

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