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Curator’s Note: The Ghost


Clarion Vol. 5: Tau Lewis: Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Ebony L. Haynes

Curator’s Note: The Ghost

7 297 Words 1 Note 2mins


One of Tau Lewis’s greatest musical influences is the Jamaican roots-reggae singer Winston Rodney. Rodney’s signature ghostly chants, dubbed-out psychedelic repetition, and sad yet hopeful vocal work make up the heavy roots sound that is encompassed by his stage name, Burning Spear. His polythematic oeuvre deals with Pan-Africanism, doctrinal systems, and Jamaican political discourse. His 1975 album Marcus Garvey weaves these themes together to create a potent message of faith and political radicalism, making him a hero in Jamaica and cementing his legacy within the heavy roots philosophy and movement. Rodney’s music oscillates around the title of Lewis’s exhibition at 52 Walker, Vox Populi, Vox Dei (Latin for “the voice of the people [is] the voice of God”). For Lewis, the phrase becomes a descriptor of our relationship to our own belief systems, calling into question the source of authenticity and truth.

At 52 Walker, Lewis’s monumental masks—the latest works in her continuing exploration of anthropomorphic forms informed by those in Yoruban mask dramas—draw inspiration from the work of the Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, as well as from classical Greek and Roman mythology and drama. Tiana Reid’s text in this volume illuminates these pathways and examines the link between theater and the eighteenth-century tract that gives the show its title. The gallery’s polygonal shape situated the viewer centrally on stage, surrounded by Lewis’s congregation of forms, which seemed to be engaged in an inaudible conversation across the space. Visitors activated the drama at play by their presence. Figures from the same body of work installed in viewing rooms downstairs served as counterparts to the characters above, embodying different aspects of the same being. Lewis’s practice is iterative—her bodies of work are populated by many of the same characters or spirits in various guises.

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