Barrister's Gallery
New Orleans




May 31 to June 30, 200

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Renee Stout's triptych Trapped by the Past, part of her Fatima's Dreams exhibit at Barrister's, feels like the visual equivalents of dream narratives.

You may have to look twice. Anywhere else, Renee Stout's small-scale assemblages and box sculptures would stand out, but at that supermarket-size emporium of anthropological relics and biological errata as well as folk, outsider, visionary and tribal African art known as Barrister's Gallery, Stout's stuff fits in all too well. Remarkably local in tone, it's as if Joseph Cornell's ghost had collaborated with Marie Laveau's voodoo spirits. Just looking at them can cause old Dr. John songs to start spinning in the mind.

Stout is actually based in Washington, D.C., but compensates with frequents visits to this city and its fabled river and flea market. Widely exhibited, with work in the Smithsonian collection, she bases much of her output on her personal experiences in particular, as well as on African-American culture in general, all of which come together in her fictive alter ego, one Fatima Mayfield, a spiritual advisor and proprietress of a voodoo botanica. Fatima is said to specialize in charms and talismans useful in matters of love and/or money.

One of Stout's pieces, Portrait of Fatima at 45, is a shelf with a mixture of colorful bottles and some rather nicely painted wooden blocks depicting aspects of Fatima's body: her hand, her ear with an adjacent cornrow, her staring eye, her belly with its tattoo of the voodoo spirit Erzulie, her lips, legs and so forth. A woman of many parts, her various bodily and bottled components appear formed and colored by a uniquely vivid history. While Portrait is a loose yet highly polished assemblage, Fatima and Black 9 is more folksy, with components that hark to both Africa and the ghetto. A series of painted panels with hand-scrawled signs and text as well as African fetish-like clusters of talismanic miscellany, it's a story about a dude called Black 9 and his fateful encounter with Fatima, whom he initially dismissed as a "ho" because of her purple sequined dress, blackberry lipstick and sunglasses. "No she's not, she's a root woman," the narrator retorts. What transpires is a long story in which the impudent, if poetic, Black 9 finds out the hard way that it don't pay to mess with no root woman. (Stout's narratives come across like feministic Ishmael Reed tales.)

Some works, for instance, Device to Stop a Man From Lying, are improvised experiments in ballistic voodoo technology, while others such as Trapped by the Past are more elegiac. A triptych of three found-object assemblages, Trapped features a mix of old photos and lost objects, and they are all just bits of junk, yet when arranged "just so," they take on a life of their own and become the visual equivalents of dream narratives. In this series, Stout keeps the spirits busy while keeping everyone else on their toes.


eric burkhardt, Gambit 6-8 2004

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