Jackie Milad: Pyramids Fall Too at Phoebe Projects
By Angela N. Carroll
“The whole show is about power,” says artist Jackie Milad. “The pyramids are a perfect symbol associated with power. I grew up with reverence for the pyramids and gold.”
Pyramids Fall Too is Milad’s solo exhibition at Phoebe Projects featuring mixed media drawings that explore the artist’s cultural and national identity, but also offer a critique of the real and mythologized functions of gold and the ancient pyramids. All of the iconography incorporated into the collection connotes the dominant presence and valorization of ancient and new world empires from Egypt and the Americas.
Milad explains, “I have constructed a new visual language, a mash-up of actual and invented symbols associated with my Egyptian and Honduran background and family history. This work is about creating my own mythologies and language—my own identity.”
The icons Milad identifies with power are playful and loosely executed, which makes them charming but also threatening. Gold chains and scales sporadically pattern the paper. Gold stripes striate black blotches and transform splatters into flags. Pyramids are rendered in various media and repeated at varying scale and perspective. The collection is an experiment in how to visualize and reimagine the vastness of power.
In many of the drawings, gold is a highlight and an embellishment. Many of the forms read more like two-dimensional splotches rather than technically sound structures. Less like pyramids, and more like representations; Milad’s symbolic shapes serve as place-holders for the viewer to project their associations onto. Even amidst dense overlays of pattern, Milad’s sparse black shapes and often centralized superimposition of forms leaves an astral negative space for viewers to imagine personal narratives and experience the collection from myriad ever-shifting vantage points.
“Rebuilt Site” best exemplifies Milad’s sweeping use of space and repetition that dominates the collection. Dense layers of quickly rendered overlapping peaked blobs likened to pyramids blacken the white page. Residual chalk dust grays the paper and adds dimension to the forms that otherwise hover against a void landscape. The shapes are only distinguishable when they jut out from the black or are glazed with gold, eliciting an interesting inquiry about the nature of power.
Is power only fully activated by the currencies that mark it? Is it lessened or empowered with each iteration, each new dominant system?
Milad shares, “The iconography in the show is specific to my heritage. My mother and father came from two different cultures that made pyramids.” The show is specific, intimately tied to the experiences of Milad’s family in America, but also universal. How does one’s understanding of power shift with the idea of citizenship? Pyramids Fall Too is a curious examination of the double consciousness that the immigrant and marginalized populations are forced to balance.
In “They Are Pyramids,” detached gold teeth in a floating pink smile with dotted nostrils nestles between two pyramid shapes. The forms bubble and billow, thick and black from the base of the frame up into two peaks. The slight figural positioning and adornment of the forms anthropomorphizes them. Both blobs wear gold chains attached to their hips. “I think of them as a character, a person that rules like a new leader,” Milad explains. Smaller pyramid sketches wallpaper the background.
As an exhibition, Pyramids Fall Too is the starting point for a broader interrogation of the ways myth fuels nationalist rhetoric and identity, and the symbols that perpetuate and embolden empires. The collection reflects how our personal and familial narratives, choices, and histories perpetually intersects with global contexts, capital, and privilege. Our consumption, the leaders we elect, or the military regimes that raise their flags above the multitudes are massive systems that, like the barely identifiable “pyramids,” contort and transform like the heads of a hydra.
Milad’s deconstructed iconography and overwhelming framing of object creates a space for entry, literally in the way she renders some of the works and the dominant feature, the pyramid, for the viewer to step in and submerge as deeply as their imaginations will allow. I am curious to see how Milad will continue to develop the collection and explore power, architecture, and repetition. Pyramids Fall Too is an exhibition worth exploring.
Author Angela N. Carroll is an artist-archivist; a purveyor and investigator of contemporary culture.
Jackie Milad: Pyramids Fall Too is up at Phoebe Projects through August 6, 2016.
Top Image: “Pharonic Open”