Here jazz records and African masks - Gates’ assembly of the objects he imagined were present in the households on Malaga - surround a glass cabinet.
Visible through the glass doors is signage that I adopted as a most profound and lingering thought point of the exhibition. Immortalized in green neon reads “In the end nothing is pure.” Since Malaga was a mixed-race settlement, the racial undertone is evident.
Further on in the exhibition Gates presents a forest of ash trees which he transformed into pillars. Titled So Bitter, This Curse of Darkness, some pillars are topped with bronze casts of African masks. The wood smelled fresh as if I was walking through a living forest. Perhaps it is Gates’ signal that the history of Malaga is alive.
The prominent trees with their proud African crowns directly respond to the attempt of Maine authorities to erase the presence of the mixed-race community on the island. Here, prominence rebukes erasure. For Gates these casts “are part of a desire for preservation and conservation, a way for the artist to give form to memory.”
Gates’ presentation of African American history and African masks is timely, even if not purposeful: In late 2018 president Emmanuel Macron of France announced an initiative to return to Africa art objects that were acquired during the colonial period. In the exhibit parallels between Gates’ solo debut in Paris and the movement of prominent African Americans to the city in mid-twentieth century, when the United States was especially hostile towards black Americans, came to mind: For example, laureate James Baldwin who found both his race and sexuality more welcoming in the French capital. In Paris history is preserved and, as the adage goes, repeated.
Amalgam is on view through May 12.