UP CLOSE: Alex Callender

Alex Callender’s studio practice incorporates painting, drawing and installation to explore intersections between myth, identity and material culture. Through the visual forms of historical narrative, repurposed archival imagery, and speculative fictions, she considers questions of race and borders, environmental instability, and hybridized landscapes. Callender has exhibited nationally and internationally, and has held studio residencies with the Santa Fe Art Institute, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The Drawing Center’s Open Session program, the Art in Embassies Program, The Vermont Studio Center, Urban Glass, the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, Alice Yard in Trinidad, and DRAWinternational and The BAU Institute in France. Callender is an Assistant Professor of Art at Smith College.

My current painting and drawing project explores a fictional Atlantic history, performed in scenes by women channeled from colonial paintings and archives. The exhibition considers how identities are formed in love and in resistance to the brutality of colonial world making. Weaving together written and material histories of the Black Atlantic, I try to reimagine these women’s relationship to, self, collective identities, power, and the (in)visible Black labor embodied in colonial imagery and how it relates to our present. Remixing the landscapes and subjectivities of colonial archives, I ask viewers to consider how economic narratives are masked to present hegemonic myths about who belongs and who does not in Western canonical imagery.

In this world, I explore the visual modes of science fiction as a tool of translation to think about the colonial project. Conditions of Sci-Fi mutability allow for time travel, multiple embodiment, and hybrid spaces to complicate identity narratives and interrupt history. Iconic colonial color palettes are contrasted with dense matte black pigment silhouettes and a multi-headed protagonist learns how to move together, while an interior group of gesturing arms searches through deep water within. I am interested in transformation, turning colonial imagery of economic speculation into speculative histories in which narratives of women’s lives and relationships can be reconfigured and speak to possibilities in our present. These figures further evoke lineages that have been lost or interrupted, and are being recovered by generations of black women, assembling a past from archives, oral histories, fragments, story-telling, and imagination.