Gordon Shadrach: Net Worth +
United Contemporary is excited to be reopening the gallery with Net Worth+, an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by gallery artist Gordon Shadrach. Net Worth+ explores how stereotypes impact the value North American society places on Black men. Questioning what constitutes Black masculinity, Shadrach takes inspiration from such ongoing stereotypes as athleticism and strength in Black men, including images of sports and physical labour. Black Americana ephemera is showcased in conjunction with these contemporary depictions of Blackness, thus tracing a line from these examples of historical oppression to today’s fetishization of the Black male body. By connecting depictions of contemporary Black men with historical references, Shadrach questions the seemingly optimistic, albeit dubious, values of power and strength as they are applied to Black masculinity, and suggests how such images are the production of the long reach of historical, systematic racism.
Seven of Shadrach’s new works on display were completed during quarantine, and are also inspired by the cultural shift we have started to see regarding anti-Black racism. The Gloves are Off (2020), a new sculpture installation, continues Shadrach’s theme of connecting how and where the expectation/stereotype of hyper-masculinity and physical strength of Black men began, and its impact on how they are still perceived to this day. Shadrach says this piece “symbolizes that the fight continues and will be fought on our terms, not those dictated to us by those whose own interests benefitted by muting our voices.”
Net Worth+ also includes three new portraits that comprise the RePurposed series, where Shadrach depicts sports equipment as face masks, exploring how the professional sports world contributes to anti-Black racism by not valuing the voices and lives of those they seem to hold in such high regard.
Gordon Shadrach has had a lifelong fascination with the semiotics of clothing and its impact on culture. In particular, his interest lies in the intersection and codification of race and fashion. These codes impact the way we navigate through spaces and influence how people associate with one another. Shadrach’s portraits of Black men utilize fashion—contemporary or historical dress—in order to create narratives which pull viewers in to explore the biases embedded in North American culture. In creating backgrounds, Shadrach’s selective palette demonstrates that dark colours elevate the presence of his sitters rather than diminish them. Most of Shadrach’s paintings are finished in damaged antique and vintage frames. The frames’ patina and wear lend historic weight and insert the portraits into a period when Black people were rarely depicted in Western portraiture. Shadrach seeks to disrupt the colonial constrictions of portraiture by inviting viewers to reflect upon the depiction of Black people in art and culture.