Microscope Gallery has a solo exhibition by film artist Ina Archer on view, titled To Deceive the Eye. Dedicated to the exploration of media representations of Blackness spanning a period of over 100 years, Archer's work aims to uncover the biases that have beset African Americans as presented through the advancements in visual technologies during this timeframe.

Deriving the title of her exhibition from the French expression “trompe-l'oeil” – an artistic technique which creates an illusion of three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional background – Archer uses original, archival and found materials to re-contextualize perceptions of Blackness and “otherness” in the United States. The exhibition consists of a new multi-channel video installation, 16mm film, watercolors and other works which touch upon the legacy of minstrelsy, cultural appropriation and erasure in media.

To Deceive the Eye, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Microscope Gallery, New York.

In her video installation Black Black Moonlight: A Minstrel Show, Archer unearths footage from the early days of film, television broadcasts, social media and other sources, combining them into a three-channel installation that is reminiscent of early minstrel shows, with the larger screen (representing the interlocutor) being flanked by two monitors on the left and right (the sidekicks). Through new works painted with watercolors, graphite, ink and charcoal on paper, Archer transfers onto the canvas images of the racially-charged dolls, statuettes and other objects which she has purchased over the years as a way of “liberating“ them and, by extension, removing the potency of their symbolism from the public discourse.

Even though these objects are not on display in the exhibition, they are featured in her 16mm film Trompe L'oeil: Black Leader. In it, Archer tackles the problematic history that surrounds the visual rendering of non-white skin. Before the advent of “Leader Ladies” (or “China Girls”), who appeared next to Kodak color charts as a means of adjusting color settings in film, ceramic dolls were utilized for the same purpose. Archer sets her collection of emancipated dolls and figurines against a variety of actual color charts, thereby underlining the distorted perception of Blackness that was so often a feature of media in the past.

Ina Archer, Voodoo Zulu Doll Circa 1982: From Mel to Ina, 2023, watercolor on paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Microscope Gallery, New York.

Microscope Gallery was established in 2010 by artists/curators Elle Burchill and Andrea Monti. It specializes in exhibiting works by contemporary artists who are willing to take risks in pushing the envelope of the contemporary art scene, whether in the media of moving image, photography, digital art, sound or performance. Archer's first exhibition at Microscope Gallery was Osmundine (Orchid Slap) in 2020.

To Deceive the Eye will be on view through July 27, 2024. More details on the exhibition can be found at the Microscope Gallery site.

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