As you entered, you faced a huge rocking structure with strands of barbed wire, a structure full of meaning – the rocking chair of Melvin Edwards’ grandmother Coco, wire fencing used in farm enclosures to keep animals apart, barbed wire used on top of prison compound walls, in South Africa, a symbol of the segregation that was apartheid.
You had to walk carefully around American artist Melvin Edwards’ structure ‘Coco Vari Providence’, surrounded by intense, deep, dark paintings, a reminder of the brutality and cruelty which black people have suffered until relatively recently, perhaps also acting as a marker that such things still go onto today, perhaps not related to differences in colour, but by race and religion. The human race never seems to learn….
Passing through, you entered another space at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, filled with fascinating steel sculptures created from welded objects such as chisels, hammers, chains and horseshoes, transformed into works of art which have a resonance with, for example, traditional and modern bronze sculptures from African countries such as Nigeria which indeed were part of South African artist Kendell Geer’s exhibition ‘Love, By Any Means Necessary’ in Stephen Friedman’s other gallery space across Old Burlington Street.
Here, a large bronze female figures stood looking out into the street, but something is not right – her hands have been replaced with shards of glass while she held metal chains from which she has escaped, while a group of bronzes related back to the Kota reliquaries which, when shown in Paris, influenced artists such as Pablo Picasso.
The symbolism, or double meanings continued with the centrepiece of the gallery – Geer’s neon sign which spelled out both ‘Love’ on one side and ‘Revolution’ on the other, relating back to the protest movements in the US in the 1960’s and his paintings showing petals which, on closer inspection, are bullet holes. Geers expresses concern for the world that we now live in, which alternates between coming together and moving apart and from tolerance to intolerance with Brexit, the wall between the USA and Mexico, wars continuing in the Middle East and, although his exhibition was held before the full impact of the coronavirus epidemic hit us all, the impact of that in terms of the future economic priorities of the world and the relationship, for example, between the USA and China.