91 Middlesex Street
PUBLIC Gallery is pleased to present Peacemaker, the first solo exhibition of Oakland based artist Muzae Sesay outside of the USA. Featuring a new series of paintings alongside an ambitious installation of fourteen floor to ceiling fabric works, the exhibition continues the artist’s investigations into history, community, personal experience and built environments.
In this exhibition, Sesay’s richly chromatic, geometrically structured works center around the notion of international peacemaking, highlighting the hypocrisy of its so-called geopolitical exponents such as the USA and UK. Divided thematically across two floors, the ground floor features work under the banner of ‘empathy’ exploring the impact of imperialistic agendas on human life, while the basement floor centers on the idea of the ‘earth’ to highlight and question the environmental impact of performative diplomacy in the face of ecological crisis.
Consisting of four paintings which bear lush surfaces of oil, acrylic, oil pastel, charcoal and other mediums, the works on the ground floor have an initial visual appeal but subsequently reveal darker references of imperialistic control. The underlying structure of each canvas is informed by a myriad of references from drone footage of surveillance states to the captive environments of FEMA Camps. In Backwards Obstacle, Over and Through, we see an abstract composition of vertical and horizontal bands, tessellating blocks and geometric forms composed of graduated and shifting colours. A reimagining of the US-Mexico border wall, here Sesay subverts the symbolism of self-interested isolationist policy through the inclusion of a multicoloured ladder in the center of the painting alongside a series of doors that subtly appear upon closer viewing.
In the basement floor, two paintings respectively titled Our Drainage and Seedy Little Park, depict scenes of urban encroachment on the natural environment populated by images of walls, fences and harshly cut trees. Symbolising both social and political upheaval as well as perseverance and optimism, trees have become an important motif for Sesay resulting in an expansive installation of fourteen three meter tall ‘tree flags’, all produced on a range of coloured fabrics which hang from the ceiling forming an immersive forest.
If the cut trees in Sesay’s paintings represent the societal and environmental carnage left by imperialistic policy implemented under the guise of peacemaking, his forest alludes to the continuation of life. Framed by the immersive trunks, the exhibition culminates in a large-scale painting which depicts a mountainscape aptly titled Towards the Light of Land. Set against a textured black background, the technicolour faces of the mountains shine bright, alluring us to come back to nature, come back to the earth and offering a final chance to make peace––if not with each other, with the land.
Muzae Sesay (b. 1989, Long Beach, California, USA) lives and works in Oakland, California. Recent solo exhibitions include Cut Trees, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2020); Freetown Veranda, Pt.2 Gallery, Oakland (2020); The Purest Air I’ve Ever Known, Pt.2 Gallery, Oakland. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions including Californisme: Partie 2, Bim Bam Gallery, Paris (2021); Path of the Storm, SUNNY NY Gallery, New York (2021); Sites of Memory, United Talent Agency: UTA Artist Space, Los Angeles (2021) and Personal Alchemy, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (2020). In 2021 he completed a residency at The Cabin LA, Los Angeles.