Renée Cox has never been afraid of challenging cultural norms with her artwork, and her series Soul Culture is a perfect example of her avant-garde style. An eclectic and mesmerizing collection of pieces, Soul Culture features large multimedia works that are not only strongly reminiscent of the psychedelic style that was popular in the 1960s, but also of Hindu and Buddhist art.
Cox brings her artistic vision to life by weaving hundreds of photographic portraits together on a large solid canvas. The portraits mostly feature people of color and are cut in varying sizes. The cuts are carefully placed together and then intricately layered, which what creates the mesmerizing effect that is so unique to her works. When looking at one of her works from far away, it simply appears to be a large and colorful mandala with a couple of portraits. However, upon further inspection, it can be clearly noted that the mandala is actually made up of smaller portraits that make up the whole.
Cox’s decision to layer the portraits also give the pieces in Soul Culture their three-dimensional quality that encourages the viewer to look at the work from different angles. “A Harmonic Convergence of the Feminine” exemplifies the depth and complexity that the third dimension brings to Cox’s works; one can view the painting from the left, from the front and from the right, and still see something different each time. In doing this, Cox not only invites the viewer to approach her works from a different perspective, but also teaches them that something can never simply be looked at once.
“When looking at the art in the exhibit, I really had to look at it more than once because just a glance wasn’t enough. I had to walk around the art works a couple of times so I could look at it from all sides because every time I saw something new,” junior Axel Rodriguez said.
The intricacy of the pieces is what makes it such an enthralling experience for the viewer, and the pieces are meant to transport the viewer into another state of mind—a total immersion. The portraits used are also digitally manipulated, which only adds to the rather whimsical nature of the works. This is vastly different from other renowned photographic art works, such as works by Imogen Cunningham. While Cunningham believed in capturing the world as it truly appears, Cox transports viewers into a world of her own creation.
However, many of the portraits that are used in the pieces are nude, which may make some people feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, since there are so many portraits used in the piece, the abundance of eyes and faces that stare back can be slightly unnerving for some. It is important to note that while Cox is known for stirring controversy with her art, Soul Culture is not meant to disturb the viewer. In fact, many people—including Cox herself—find the portraits to be empowering and believe that the body is used to promote positivity.
“I believe the combination of the focus on the black body and the empowerment of the human form was really striking and different from other works; not to mention the fact that the art was 3D and done all by the artist herself from photo to finish,” sophomore Makayla Bell said.
Thought-provoking and transcendent, Soul Culture challenges the way we view the world around us with an original and captivating collection of pieces and reminds us to always keep an open mind. Currently, Soul Culture can be viewed at the Columbia Museum of Art until April 22. It is an eye-opening experience that is worth a visit.
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