Jesse Amado: Fringe, Coils, a Demon and a Small Political Allegory

Sala Diaz, San Antonio

Through October 5, 2008
by Wendy Atwell

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      Jesse Amado
      Installation view, Fringe, Coils, a Demon and a Small Political Allegory
      2008
      Courtesy Sala Diaz

      View Gallery

      In Fringe, Coils, a Demon and a Small Political Allegory at Sala Diaz, Jesse Amado pries into the viewer’s consciousness, evoking the vast wound made by America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While there is nothing trademark about Amado’s art in terms of media, this exhibition portrays Amado’s gift for brevity and beauty and the power within his restraint.

      In the gallery’s first room, an installation of four sculptural art objects conspires to draw out the horror and loss of a war that remains deeply repressed in daily American life. Amado joins the subject of war with the theme of racial hatred, raised by Barack Obama’s candidacy for president. These three sculptural installations, located in Sala Diaz’s adjoining room, include rope, photographs of hanging trees and mirrors. Amado leaves these difficult subjects open-ended. This is a valuable tactic for political art, which is most effective when it performs a process similar to psychoanalysis: it reveals the shadows.

      Using the 2008 book War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases 2003-2007, Amado performs his own surgery on the viewer’s frame of mind. The book rests open on a reference podium, with pages earmarked by the artist. Small black tabs allow the viewer to peruse endless color photographs of war injuries - entry and exit wounds, blast injuries, the birth of an infant Iraqi boy. Amado retrofitted the book with green and blue translucent plastic sheets carefully placed over the photographs, along with natural cotton cord bookmarks that appear similar to something that might be used in bandages. This bolsters the shock of the gory images and adds a layer of sensitivity to their clinical nature; the veiling calls attention to the sacred life element that is exposed, not just as flesh, blood and bone, but as the personal: somebody’s mother, father, husband, child. The heart-wrenching images of hands and faces blown off and injured children are shocking enough, but infinitely more disturbing is the reality of a need for a textbook to cover the topic.

      The most poignant and quiet piece in the room is a small hat-like sculpture mounted on the wall. Newsprint, covered with the faces and names of dead soldiers, forms the pouf of a hat and a mass of black fringe falls from it. The vague shape of the hat—it could be a graduation hat or a beret—expresses the immensity of lost lives. The clump of black fringe conveys the empty pomp decorating the many hats that will now go unworn.

      In the next room, a pile of several nooses lie tangled on the floor in a corner. One noose contains a doll-sized statue head of a woman who may represent Lady Liberty. Two small round mirrors are mounted at eye level on the walls above it, as a chance for reflection, to peep into one’s consciousness. Nearby are three images of hanging trees, stacked vertically. The leafless, nightmarish twists of branches stand as ghostly reminders. Hand-written on a mirror the size of a political campaign button is “A button outside the Texas Republican Convention asked, 'If Obama is president will we still call it the white house?'” Viewed in the context of the current war, this room of art stands not so much as a warning but as ill portent. Meanwhile, though Amado’s art about the war has a memorializing aspect, it also displays a loss of hope. Certainly, because of the book’s existence, it is already too late. In his press release, Amado mentions how the control of information and censorship of the war affect Americans’ freedom and fear. But Amado’s art goes deeper than to place blame; it seemed to ask, what is it about human nature that conspires with this censorship and courts ignorance?

      Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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