How do you locate yourself in your hometown? How do you navigate an unfamiliar city? Where exactly do you feel at home, and where do you find yourself a stranger, and how? What tells you to follow one street but not the other? What clues make you to quicken your stride and what encourages you to leisurely stroll? Who do you expect to meet depending on the path and pace you choose?
A perpetual wanderer, Carris Adams is highly attuned to the circulation of bodies and signs in and between urban, suburban and rural spaces. In her large-scale paintings and drawings, the artist appropriates and re-signifies graphic designs taken from local businesses she has stumbled upon while roaming diverse neighborhoods. By transplanting them from their original settings—that is, the streets and corners in which they are embedded and naturalized as common elements of a man-made landscape—to an art gallery, she seeks to expose how these social markers are implicitly classed, raced, and gendered. By setting up encounters with a specific local, ingeniously amped-up aesthetics, she invites her viewers to question their perceptions, their sense of place and identity (or identities), and their habitual manners of relating to the constructed environment. Her fragmentary, reassembled landscapes signal the far-flung zones of resilience of black and brown communities, manifested through their distinctive words, typefaces, and colors.
Her recent paintings, presented at the Courtyard Gallery, zero in on the ways in which a black female body is ossified into a sign and a signifier. What are the repercussions of this forceful transformation from a live, concrete being into a persuasive, textual object on display? When a black woman is reduced to a marker of a commercial venture as a consumable object, for example, as “Lady Mocha,” what does it tell us about how she is valued, both by her own community and others? Do our perceptions shift when she is compared, in turn, to a precious stone? Embellished with glitter and hardened by enamel, Adams’s paintings render visible captivating and enduring stereotypes constructed around black womanhood.
So when you meet her in the flesh on the 63rd and MLK intersection in Chicago or on the 12th and Springdale in Austin, whom will you see? And how will you address her?
Dorota Biczel is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History whose research focuses on modern and contemporary Latin American art in the global context. She served as the 2015–2016 Curatorial Fellow at the Department of Art and Art History’s Visual Arts Center.