<i>Liquid State</I> installation view, Axis Gallery, September 2017
Gideon Mendel and Sue Williamson

Marking its 20th anniversary this fall, Axis Gallery presents two thematic exhibitions that celebrate the Gallery’s socially engaged program and artists, and that speak to our troubled times.

Liquid State concerns changes of state—social, political, physical and metaphysical, flux, transformation, alchemical reactions, and that which slips away.

Sammy Baloji premieres in the United States his multimedia installation from documenta14 Athens earlier this year. It melds the smelting of copper in Congo today with the conflation of currency and Christianity in the historical meanings attached to the “Katanga Cross”—the copper ingot that incidentally also forms Axis Gallery’s logo.

Bright Ugochukwu Eke’s truncated canoe prows suggest the fragility of economies and ecology.   The way of life in the Cross River area of Nigeria, Eke’s homeland, was premised on boating, but oil companies have polluted the water and atmosphere, destroying the fishing economy and the vitality of surrounding communities.

Gideon Mendel, whose “Drowning World” project on flooding featured at Rencontres d’Arles Photographie 2017, presents iconic images from past political struggles that have been damaged by water or by fire. These damaged documents invite us to look back on past political aspirations in the light of history.

Algernon Miller, whose work commissioned this summer by Studio Museum of Harlem also was part of the new Uptown triennial, conjures delicate landscapes from paint spilled on metal surfaces, suggesting how intense pressure can create beautiful brave new worlds—an Afrofuturist angle appropriate to his pioneering role in the movement.

Jebila Okongwu’s painstakingly fragmented images of volcanoes, conceived during his recent residency at Art Omi, evoke the cataclysm that ensues when explosive energies are repressed. The jigsaw puzzle-like sections derive from his practice of cutting up banana boxes, whose trade routes reinscribe those of the slave trade.

Sue Williamson, featured in numerous international exhibitions this year, presents a confession to water torture. By representing multiple copies of a past publishing project, each opened to a different spread, the currency of the work is refreshed and its status repositioned, underscoring that though states may change, torture continues.

Liquid State opens Sept. 21, 6-8.30PM, with an opening address by Dr. Susan Vogel, founding director of the Museum for African Art, New York, highlighting the role of Axis Gallery in changing perceptions about African art in the United States and abroad.

The second exhibition, Unmasked, which probes the underbelly beneath surface appearances and projections, will open October 26, 2017 and run from October 27- November 18, 2017.

Unmasked installation view. Left: Jebila Okongwu, Untitled, 2017; Right: various works by Algernon Miller