artwork hanging

The Bronx Museum of the Arts Biennial Explores Our Contemporary Condition

The pandemic has served as an inspiration to and a call to action for many artists since March 2020. Explorations of work produced for mutual aid are frequent; discussions around memorials—and who should build them—are passionate. At The Bronx Museum of the Arts’s Fifth AIM Biennial, 68 contemporary artists curated by Ian Cofre and Eva Mayhabal Davis are taking these conversations inside art institutional walls. Here, the curators focused on the lack of interaction and physical touch that we collectively experienced throughout the duration of the health crisis, and how that affected problem solving of the world’s sociopolitical issues. Many of the works highlight an obsession with tangibility and the discourse needed to offer human connection and new modes of production in this time of isolation.

artwork hanging
Victoria-Idongesit Udondian, Akaisang, 2020-2021. Photography courtesy of the artist and The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

Walking into the Museum’s main galleries, Victoria-Idongesit Udondian’s installation Akaisang (2020-21) is the most visually striking. Right away I recognized the artist’s Nigerian sensibilities in her technical art application. Handwoven hijabs suspended from the ceiling and life-cast hand molds of Black figures reaching up to the sky out of a bed of flowers and foliage create a physical tension throughout the space. The work not only embodies the curatorial prompt of the need for interaction and a tactile experience, but also the ghostly metaphor of the vast history of colonial atrocities that have faced people of color during migration and displacement.

artwork on wall glass
Gyun Hur, There is a land beyond the river (저 건너편 언덕에), 2021. Photography courtesy of the artist and The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

Meanwhile at first look, Gyun Hur’s wall installation There is a land beyond the river ( 건너편 언덕에), 2021, seems a dainty collection of 18 glass raindrops creating an amber yellow aura in the room. The South Korean artist sourced water for the hand-blown glass containers from New York’s Bronx and East rivers and her work is made in response to Asian hate crimes in the United States that have occurred during the pandemic. Here, the raindrops honor the victims in the Atlanta spa shooting on March 16, 2021. Their yellow hue represents the xenophobia faced by Asian Americans. 

frieze painting
Jesse Kreuzer, Protest and Counter-Protest, 2021. Photography courtesy of the artist and The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

Themes of protest are presented in several pieces, including Jesse Kreuzer’s 30-foot-long frieze oil painting Protest and Counter-Protest (2021), comprised of eight panels of a protest frozen in time. As a viewer, there is no way to avoid being engulfed in this scene of the clash of confederate and American flags, and the people that would risk their lives for each ideology these flags represent. Lines are blurred as peaceful demonstrations are overpowered by acts of violence by the police and Anti-Black demonstrators, which highlights the confusing rhetoric that came about during the Black Lives Matter movement responding to police brutality during the pandemic. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Faith Ringgold’s masterwork American People Series #20: Die, 1967, which is on view downtown at the New Museum’s retrospective. Though it’s easy to claim that history is cyclical, the artists in the Fifth AIM Biennial ask us to pause to contemplate our current times and consider a different future.