Artist Ajay Kurian returns to 47 Canal Gallery for a show of new works this month, delving into the recent American political landscape, and the fraught politics of identity, interiority and authenticity that have dominated the political discourse in the past years. Responding in particular to the near-constant presentation and proliferation of the American flag in the language and iconography of a resurgent American nationalism, Kurian has created his own series of flags, fragmented transformations of this same language to explore new possibilities for an American populace.
Titled Nine Flags, the show consists of nine wall-mounted sculptures based on the dimensions of the U.S. flag. Departing from its familiar stars and stripes, these flags feature distorted tessellations reminiscent of scales or cracked, dehydrated earth. They are colored in a number of varied combinations, always blurring dark, earthy tones with momentary flashes of bright, slurred color, leaving the American red, white and blue as a rigid counterpoint to the smoothly undulating tones of the gradients and blends used here.
Similarly, the surface itself seems to be in the process of shedding, the prior flag’s skin sloughing off to reveal a new one below. A wry aside to recent YouTube conspiracy videos alleging a reptilian super-race taking over the U.S. government, Kurian transposes this framing towards a new, emerging potential for the nation. His pieces suggest a depth hope, dwelling beneath the sculpted, contoured relief, as if each individual work carries the weight of the body’s changes, but seems to be in a state of movement towards a new potentiality. As abstractions, they play on notions of decay and rebirth, of the body creating itself anew while transitioning forms and leaving a somewhat distended, disturbing shell in its wake.
As pictures, the paintings could also be read as surfaces on which to project political and social metamorphosis. The shedding of each skin, the changing of scales, and the shifts in flow and pattern all maintain that the contraction of one image and body leads to the expansion of the next. This is change without resolution, a reproduction that seems driven only by the natural forces of either evolution or necessity (perhaps both). Referencing bodies as a format for production and proliferation of themselves, and the ideas that they house, Kurian toys with the thread of just what transitional stages and states may look like, and adds in his own visual accompaniment to a period of extreme social and political turbulence in the 21st Century.
The show is on view through November 9th.
— D. Creahan
Ajay Kurian, Nine Flags [47 Canal]