The Ringling Gets Real with Video Exhibition

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY FEB 19, 2021

In the wake of civil unrest over racial disparities, the conversation about equality made its way into places and spaces where it had not previously been. This included the worlds of visual and performance art. Many organizations released revamped mission statements that added “inclusivity” or “diversity” as central to their mission while others hired diversity specialists or made greater efforts to seek out artistic works by BIPOC artists. But when the conversation made its way to The Ringling, it found ears that have been engaged in listening for a long time.

Two of those ears belong to Ola Wlusek, The Ringling’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “I feel like our audiences might not be aware that we have a history of showing Black artists in group or solo exhibitions,” she says, “and it goes back to the 80s.” In those days, The Ringling celebrated Cuban, Afrocuban and other hispanic artists in what were historically more Eurocentric spaces. That was before Wlusek’s time, but in her efforts to continue that legacy, she helped put together a film exhibition called “For Real This Time.”

The exhibition includes films in a variety of styles that grapple with the current state of attitudes towards race and inequality. Just yesterday, the museum concluded its run of John Sims’ Recoloration Proclamation, which chronicles Sims’ decades-long work in dismantling the explicit and implicit racism of the Confederate flag. Today, the exhibition begins screening Egungun: Ancestor Can’t Find Me by Cauleen Smith, an experimental filmmaker whose work contains strands of Afrofuturism and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants throughout her long career.

Though Smith is based out of California, she actually conceived of and shot the film while enjoying a stay at the Rauschenberg Foundation’s artist retreat on Captiva Island in 2016. While there, Smith dug into some of the pre-Columbian history of the region and found herself thinking alot about ancestors. In her walks on the grounds, she found herself collecting objects like feathers and shells, and she later used those objects as the basis for a costume for the film’s lead character. Dressed in these local artifacts, Smith created a masked Yoruban Egungun character that combines elements of the prehistoric Calusa peoples of Florida with elements of a West African culture.

The abstract video, shot on 16mm film, depicts a mystical figure covered in shells and seaweed hiking between a seaside wilderness and a suburban pool carrying a spade or staff. The character, seemingly in search of its own resting place at the bottom of the pool or the bottom of a shallow hole in the ground, looks like an amalgamation of many spiritual figures and motifs. “She talks a lot in her interviews about how we all have a shared identity no matter the time or place,” says Wlusek, “and I think for The Ringling, it’s important that we offer works like this to give people a space to reflect on that idea.”

The film runs through March 11th in the Monda Gallery.

The Ringling, 5401 Bay Shore Rd., 941-359-5700

Click here for more information.

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