Feature: 11 Exciting Artists to Watch in 2015

By Blake Daniels Saturday, January 31st, 2015 Categories: Features, Updates

Blake Daniels compiles a list of eleven dynamic and provocative artists to watch in 2015, as an exclusive feature for ARC Magazine. Whether pushing social, political or personal confines in their practices, each of these creatives are bravely engaging with or exposing underlying issues around topics such as identity, race, gender, sexuality and culture in the Caribbean, Africa and the diaspora. Read more about the selected artists’ impact on Daniels below:


I have been privileged and blessed to be coming into my third year with ARC Magazine, having been humbled by the endless challenge, wit and love this community so boundlessly offers. In both celebrating this, and in being reflective, I have looked back at some of the most brilliant artists, some of whom I have met personally, some whom have become dear friends and collaborators and some whom I hope time will allow our directions to intersect. These are 11 artists who are refusing apathy, challenging the structural protocol and offering generously new forms of visual language that demand fresh modes of discourse and engagement; they are some of the most exciting artists whom I would keep an eye on in the coming year.

Ayana Evans, Operation Catsuit - An Ongoing Series, Courtesy of Artist.

Ayana Evans, Operation Catsuit – An Ongoing Series. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Ayana Evans – B. Chicago, IL, USA // L. New York City, NY, USA

It’s the way in which she needn’t say anything; a shift of weight, a pause in breath and the most fleeting of contact from her eyes and the viewers – often unbeknownst to themselves – become central conductors in Ayana Evans’ performance, redefining the relationship of power and self. Evans, often garbed in flamboyance, relinquishes her control of self definition to the public, finding a complex web arising between her own desire, the socio-political desires of space, and the desires of the individuals who share that common space with her. This brings to light the mechanisms of control often used against women of colour to deny them access to the spaces their legacy has built, dictating them either invisible or a spectacle which must be ascertained and handled. It’s from this transparency incited through her work that Evans refuses obscurity, opting instead to redraft the way in which her body’sies’ presence not only coexists, but also shapes the public space. Evans concurrently designs handbags, running her company Yana Handbags out of New York.

Leasho Johnson, Back-a-Road/The Session. Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Leasho Johnson, Back-a-Road/The Session. Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Leasho Johnson – B. Montego Bay, Jamaica // L. Kingston, Jamaica

Seemingly unavoidable, Leasho Johnson’s work was finding its way into the nooks and crannies of my visual wonderings in 2014. Whether peering out the corner of a friend’s Kingston flat, taking the stage at the (e)merge art fair, or in the ivy clad halls of Yale, the graphic lines and bold colors often depicting a kind of hyper-sexual stratum between masculinity and femininity employed by Johnson refuses a passive glance. I could have kicked myself for missing an opportunity to visit this young talent’s studio while in Kingston in the fall of 2013, but patience being virtue as a good parent persistently whispers, I had the privilege of hearing him speak this past November at the Caribbean Queer Visualities Symposium hosted by Small Axe at Yale; and what a treat it was. Whether critiquing the commodification and consumption of the black body in history with his work Red Stripe Barre or calling upon tired tropes as a means to reclaim language, both visual and spoken, this young artist based out of Kingston is continuing to push familiar visual forms as a means to bring self awareness and transformation into once exclusive spaces.

Zanele Muholi, Sharon Shez Mthunzi Daveyton Johannesburg, 2013. Image courtesy of Stevenson Gallery

Zanele Muholi, Sharon Shez Mthunzi Daveyton Johannesburg, 2013. Image courtesy of Stevenson Gallery.

Zanele Muholi – B. Umlazi, Durban, South Africa // L. Johannesburg, South Africa

Amidst a growing discourse (and possible trend) in social activism as artistic practice – one which the markets have taken a liking towards, whether met with chagrin or prospect – Zanele Muholi carries herself, and her work, with a kind of focused poise, seemingly unconcerned with the self appreciative rhetoric that often clings to acts of activism staged as artistic production. That all may be to say that I really believe Muholi couldn’t be concerned with all the institutional hubbub, keeping her practice, herself and the way she speaks about her work based in the LGBTI community as an equal, as if her own face could appear at any moment amongst the portraits of her project Faces and Phases. This is refreshing. Muholi has taken on a necessary role in establishing and ensuring a black queer visibility, demanding a fight back against the processes of institutional obscurity that have served to protect and justify the violence against the LGBTI community, especially woman of colour, in South Africa and beyond. I truly am deeply encouraged and stirred by Muholi. I will share here a series of questions Muholi raises in her statement, inviting the viewer to ask: “What does an African lesbian look like? Is there a lesbian aesthetic or do we express our gendered, racialized and classed selves in rich and diverse ways? Is this lesbian more ‘authentic’ than that lesbian because she wears a tie and the other does not? Is this a man or a woman? Is this a transman? Can you identify a rape survivor by the clothes she wears?”

Dayron González, Mural de Fondo(Background Mural), oil on canvas, 70 x 49 3/4 inches, 2013.

Dayron González, Mural de Fondo (Background Mural), oil on canvas, 70 x 49 3/4 inches, 2013.

Dayron Gonzalez – B. Quivicán, Provincia Habana, Cuba // L. Miami, FL, USA

I first came upon the paintings of Dayron Gonzalez this past September at Expo Chicago, and haven’t been able to excuse them from my thoughts since. The aggression of his figure treatment yet eloquence and control of paint create this gut churning tension of seduction and repulsion, the kind of ethical gray zone that surrounds most of the structural dilemmas young people face currently. Children scanter across Gonzalez’s canvas, oftentimes occupying multiple forms at once, a certain séance that teeters visually between form and abstraction; a twitch of the eye and suddenly what was a line of decorated students becomes a trove of uniformed soldiers, or as my mind raced… what is the difference? Gonzalez states that much of his work references the dysfunctional education systems of communist countries and the trauma thereof brought upon the children, be it physical or psychological. It is his control of the medium, willingness to address social content, and ability to interrogate larger political structures through an intensely personal manner that really pings my head, both while looking at Gonzalez’s paintings and the endless analysis I have had since leaving them to memory. This is strong painting. I am excited to see what comes forth!

Kareem Mortimer, still from Children of God. Image courtesy of  TLA Releasing.

Kareem Mortimer, still from Children of God. Image courtesy of TLA Releasing.

Kareem Mortimer – B. Nassau, Bahamas // L. Nassau, Bahamas

Maybe it is my dizzying fascination surrounding the production of motion pictures, or my own convoluted misconception that a person as soft-spoken and easy-going as Kareem Mortimer cannot produce a dynamic, challenging and heartbreaking film.Yet Mortimer has done just that with Children of God. He is not concerned with conventional love stories, or providing you with your happy ending in warm tones. To be honest, thank God for that. I also had the pleasure of meeting Mortimer at the Caribbean Queer Visualities Symposium with Leasho Johnson this past November, in which Children of God was screened. Taking on the challenge and social stigma, not from afar, but within his own city and country of birth, Mortimer has laid the groundwork for addressing LGBTI themes, politics, histories and communities not just in film, but social structures, within the Caribbean. What I greatly appreciate about Kareem and his work, beyond his sharp wit, is his use of film to extrapolate the complexities of queer identity; intersecting sexuality with instances of racism, classism, nationalism and violent religious backlash. His works understand the complexities and nuances of his content garnered only from leaving, and returning, in his case, to Nassau. Keep an eye out for Cargo, Memoirs of an Accidental Male Escort, and Canyons Peak ahead!

Shirley Rufin, New work created for Caribbean Linked II. From the series Martin Aruba. Image courtesy of the artist.

Shirley Rufin, new work created for Caribbean Linked II from the series ‘Martin Aruba’. Image courtesy of the artist.

Shirley Rufin – B. Paris, France // L. Fort de France, Martinique

Though Shirley Rufin’s practice is based in traditions of performance, video and even painting, she employs these forms of visual language to confront directly the photographic medium and the new control it has taken over the human form, specifically regarding female nudity. This is something I appreciate greatly within Rufin’s work. I see both visual and conceptual layovers with other artists working with abstracting the body through color, pattern and form, such as favorites Rodell Warner or Berni Searle, while succinctly expanding the limits of what and how the photographic process functions. Rufin states in an interview with Dominique Brebion that “Body metamorphosis, distorting the body to make it anonymous and impossible to identify, become for me, a way to confront the taboo of nudity. The use of a camera allows me to operate this device in several steps. Starting from a classical photo on paper, which is burnt with acid and then pressed under a copper plate, the body alteration is achieved. Finally, I take a digital photograph which is enlarge and printed on Plexiglas to reveal the work.” This leads us both to a new way in which to address the nude female form, while in the same stroke, raising a greater discussion around the mechanism of control that photography has enforced upon it.

Brandon Ndife, Untitled. Image courtesy of artist.

Brandon Ndife, Untitled. Image courtesy of artist.

Brandon C. Ndife – B. Hammond, IN, USA // L. New York City, NY, USA

History is a troubling thing; a device influenced by memory yet omnipresent, a form shaped in language yet vindicated through objects. In between the language and object exists the subject, and that may be the most powerful position a human can yield. This does not pass on Brandon Ndife as he both assumes and disrupts the task of the historian, while interrogating with precision these relationships between object and historical record. This is not a light topic, nor is it one to be ignored, yet Ndife approaches this authenticity of authorship with a striking balance of acute precision and nuanced humor. This seems reflective of his personality and his willingness to channel that directly into the content of his work. Often taking on the form of ruin or urban artifact, Ndife’s work, both two and three dimensional, becomes a record of absence, just marred by the slightest inflection of man-made marks and recognizable commercial forms. Paper clippings reading ‘not guilty’ or a broken ‘flirt… and world’ throw the viewer into a pendulum of social context and random causation, a lunging swing between personal intonation and a complete sense of loss around identity and personal history. It is here that I realized Ndife may be posing the question of removing the subject of history altogether, the absent person telling the story, no one race, gender, nationality or class to determine the record for all. Recently graduating from Cooper Union, and with a great solo show at Rodi Gallery in 2014, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see how Brandon Ndife continues to resolve these important inquiries in his work.

Work by Deborah Anzinger in the Jamaica Biennial 2014.

Work by Deborah Anzinger in the Jamaica Biennial 2014.

Deborah Anzinger – B. Kingston, Jamaica // L. Kingston, Jamaica

An absolute powerhouse in my personal opinion, Deborah Anzinger supports both a thriving and poignant studio practice while founding and serving as the executive director of NLS Kingston (New Local Space Limited/ nuclear localisation signal/ natty’s loquacious stylings/ nerds love serpents/ nobodies loving something/…), an experimental artist run space seeking to both forge a collaborative network of artists globally while continuing to develop and adapt within the creative and social environment of Kingston. I was fortunate to get to meet Deborah also on my trip to Kingston in 2013 around her show with the National Gallery Jamaica’s New Roots exhibition. Insatiable intelligence, a genuine kindness and the sharpest wit could be sensed about Anzinger immediately, and these become readily apparent in her work. Breaking the codes of dependence often enforced on ourselves through modes of social control, Anzinger imagines objects, spaces and images free of their constraints, enabled to acknowledge their own fragility and seek forms of transcendence from both the daily mundane and the socially violent. What I love so much about Anzinger’s work is its invitation of play to be an aspect of greatness it is quite common to stumble upon her work, be it in a gallery, museum or her home, and find children climbing on it, ducking under it, rearranging it and making it into their own beautiful work. I believe it is this form of transcendence through connectedness, and awareness of body, object and space that Anzinger seeks to explore further both in her practice and within NLS. I myself hope to take residence some day with NLS and engage with the amazing community surrounding Deborah Anzinger. Her work is currently part of the Jamaica Biennial.

Rashayla Marie Brown, You Cant See Me Fool. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Rashayla Marie Brown, You Cant See Me Fool. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Rashayla Marie Brown – B. N/a, USA //  L. Chicago, IL, USA

I will follow one powerhouse with another; Rashayla Marie Brown brings forth a certain force of energy within her multidisciplinary practice that is often lost upon me in my daily art musings. Brown, a self proclaimed lifelong nomad has found home in Chicago over the past half decade, her practice engaging, archiving and redrafting the social structures of race, class and gender within popular culture, politics and spirituality. From Brown’s ‘Unholy Trinity’ arises new forms of public and personal mythologies, often fragile, always poignant, that wield into existence a whole new creative consciousness capable of not just interrogating the historical precedent often used to vindicate racial, gender and class violence and oppression in the United States, but seeking to redraft them altogether. Brown is willing to investigate the personal as the political – the personal as the sexual – the personal as the historical; engaging with an arsenal of tools recognizable across our culture, be it photography, video, performance, writing, curatorial, fashion and music. I met Rashayla for the first time driving her home from a backyard barbeque in Chicago’s South Side, and have never forgotten that ride. We talked about spatialized racial structuring in the city, the glories of a midday meal in Atlanta and, of course, the oncoming retrograde of mercury which we all knew would wreak havoc. Her tools are diverse and well trained, her opinions often big, unapologetic and aware, and her intentions always clear. I’ll close on Rashayla Marie Brown with a famed quote from Audre Lorde: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

Kwasi Romero, Charlene Harris and Dave Williams in Dream. Image courtesy of Richard Mark Rawlins.

Kwasi Romero, Charlene Harris and Dave Williams in Dream. Image courtesy of Richard Mark Rawlins.

Dave Williams – B. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago // L. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

The stage is no new place for the exquisite choreography of Dave Williams, but as Andre Bagoo writes in his recent review of Williams’ work titled Older: “We understand the vocabulary of this piece and we are compelled to follow to the bitter end when Jhené Aiko’s pop single ‘The Worst’ fades and we then hear a poem speaking of the nature of aging, how it turns bodies that once seduced into transparencies.” Williams himself has operated greatly under different levels of transparencies, working beyond his practice as an advertising consultant, a collaborator with the web publication Draconian Switch, a tireless activist and co-founder of both the annual COCO Dance Festival and the T&T Erotic Art Week. Williams understands practices of exhaustion and labor, and its political tethering to the reality of social conditions felt within Trinidad and Tobago. It can be seen in his footwork, his content, the way he yields his own body as a political force, blurring the lines between government, social and body politics. As Lorde stated in the quote prior, Williams understands the personal as the political, the sexual as transcendental and time as an unapologetic reality, different by way of subjectivity (be it race, gender, sexuality, class, age etc.), yet universally governing within the same structures of inequality we are all too familiar with.

Kekeli Sumah, Untitled (For Africa _ For Europe). Image courtesy of the artist.

Kekeli Sumah, Untitled (For Africa _ For Europe). Image courtesy of the artist.

Kekeli Sumah – B. Accra, Ghana // L. Chicago, IL, USA

I want to finish my list of these fabulous artists, all ones to watch in this coming year, with a little treat: a person who has taught me more lessons than his wit could account for, and who is constantly flooring me with his deeply perceptive, wry yet compassionate practice as both a visual and audio artist. Though not staged as a performance, the work of Kekeli Sumah often calls upon the cues of his body, its movements, and how he navigates the thresholds between the colonial relations of Europe and Africa. He has a savvy awareness around the fact that the construction of his identity is neither a product, nor part, of himself directly – instead a sliding scale of variables that continually reformulate themselves depending on the frame from which they are addressed. Sumah then, to reconcile his own identity, works to interrogate the frameworks within which we are forced to identify, often revealing the complex structures, both personal and social, behind cultural identity. This is most apparent in his works White Frame Black Supports: Love Me Forever as I Am and White Frame Black Supports: Double Dutch 1957, in which a slathering of physical materials, resonating between the literal and allegorical, lie beneath the traditional surface of the white painted canvas. It is here that I am confounded with a paradox, one in which Sumah’s work is both calling for transparency, justice and reprimands through coy and somewhat sardonic imagery, while creating a genuine statement of love, desire and compassion often vacant from contemporary art, revealing both Sumah’s willingness to be vulnerable and generous. If you’re enjoying his visual work, catch him spinning records. It’s always a delight.

Blake Daniels
Blake Daniels

Blake Daniels (b. 1990 Cincinnati, USA) is an American artist living and working in Savannah and Johannesburg. His paintings depict bodies and spaces that are constantly being altered, dislocated, and fragmented through the internalization of the socially built history they experience. Reconfiguring figure and ground relations on the painting surface, Daniels is able to account for the inherent hybridism that has arisen between representation and abstraction. This shift within Daniels paintings speaks to larger postcolonial conditions, contesting notions of pure race, gender, language and nationality. Daniels employs a number of historic painting process to reconfigure the history they document, inventing a wild and playful, yet astutely dark conception of his observed world.