Jonathan Darby has completely transformed White Walls gallery into an African setting with his newest show, Congo which runs through December 8th. You can no longer even see the White Walls from which the gallery gets its name. The entire space has been covered with wood panels, pieces of garbage bags, windows, signs, wires, and all kinds of other authentic materials. These have been installed to completely change the interior flow of the space of the gallery, with hidden corners and windows looking like a shop keeper just went to the back to get something for a customer. The space is further emphasized by the quiet rhythm of African drumming and music heard in the background.
All of this would be well and good, but it is the mixed-media pieces hung on these new walls that are really special. Each piece shows the face of a child, presumably one of the children Darby worked with while in Goma, where he taught art lessons. The faces are pasted over a collage of money, newspapers, and patterned papers with things like guns and diamonds on them. The works seem to flow with the walls on which they are displayed and look like they were just panels removed from a building in Goma. However, the careful treatment of the children's faces separates them from any street poster. They are enlarged so that you have to look at them, and they look right back at you. Endearing, powerful, and heartbreaking, these works evoke the spirit of the children themselves, even across the globe.
After winding through the gallery, visitors will find themselves in a very small back room in which a video of Darby's trip to Goma is displayed. The music is much louder here, and you see the children in the pictures, but this time they are actively taking part in their own creative expression. The video shows the children both playing instruments and taking part in art-making practices giving them an active presence of which the medium of the mixed-media panels denies them. The bright colors and movement of the video starkly contrast to the rest of the gallery, overshadowed in brown hues, and provides what seems like a window into another world. This is strategically emphasized by the environment Darby created in which to situate his viewers as conscious and understanding of the people and things around them. The British artist also further emphasized this understanding by contributing a portion of the proceeds of all sales to the children in these school programs you see in the video. So, go take a look at this work. If you decide to buy, it all goes to a good cause, and if you can't buy, you can at least educate yourself in an environment that will take you far away, and some works that will make you both look and think.
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