Sperone Westwater is pleased to present Shaunté Gates’s first exhibition at the gallery showcasing the artist’s new series “The Land of Myth.” Featuring mixed media paintings, Gates’s show is a psychogeographical interrogation of the issues that shape our identities. Through a multidisciplinary approach, Gates layers photography, painting, found texts, collage and family portraits, creating dreamlike landscapes that explore the labyrinthine social constructs of race, class and the physical sites people inhabit and operate within. Born in Washington, D.C., Gates uses the architecture of the city’s public housing projects as a starting point for each work, building complex compositions that weave together layers of world history, personal memories, American pop culture and mythology.
Growing up in and around public housing projects in the 1980s, Gates recalls close-knit communities filled with love and support during a time of political and economic neglect. Utilizing images of D.C.’s Barry Farms, Langston Terrace and Lincoln Heights, Gates presents these housing projects as “semi-ruined temples,” which have been affected by the explosion of crack cocaine, the war on drugs and the subsequent devastation wrought on Black bodies and the futures housed within them. By building layers of photos, text fabrics, and paint, Gates’s interventions with collage transform the terrain of the housing project into cinematic compositions of beauty, chaos and glory, wherein the past, present and future–imagined and real–collide and coalesce. Interwoven into these complex landscapes are photographs of the artist’s friends and family that have been transfigured into animal-like forms and other mythological creatures, appearing both ancient and futuristic. Gates surveys themes of duality, religion, introspection and escapism as the figures navigate the maze of norms and narrative placed upon them by outside forces through policy, history and mass media. Titled after Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth”—a 1988 documentary series exploring residential segregation and the many myths derived from the constructs of education, race and class—this body of work further investigates the intersection of psychology and geography, revealing forgotten, discarded and marginalized aspects of the urban environment.
Shaunté Gates (b. 1979) lives and works in Washington, D.C.. He studied at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Bowie State University. Gates is a participating artist in the Smithsonian Institution’s “Men of Change” four-year traveling exhibition spanning ten museums, including California African American Museum, Cincinnati Underground Railroad Museum and Washington State History Museum (2019-2022). His work has also been featured extensively in exhibitions in the Washington region, including STABLE (2021); American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center (2016); Honfluer Gallery (2015); 39th Street Gallery (2014); Parish Gallery (2011); The Graham Collection (2006); and Howard University (2004). He has been awarded residencies with The Kennedy Center and Washington Project for the Arts (WPA). Gates has work in esteemed private collections and institutions such as the Studio Museum in Harlem. He has completed many public art commissions throughout D.C. schools, including Transcending, a painting commemorating the 140th anniversary of Howard University School of Law.
Written in collaboration with the artist and independent curator Niama Safia Sandy.