Craft, Commodity, and Capitalism


Craft Contemporary presents RAW: Craft, Commodity, and Capitalism, a thematic exhibition featuring nine contemporary artists who work with commodities as their materials to construct works that reflect upon the history of colonialism, slavery, and globalization, on view through January 5, 2020. The artists featured are: Charmaine Bee, Atul Bhalla, Sonya Clark, Raksha Parekh, Jovencio de la Paz, Ignacio Perez Meruane, Amor Muñoz, Juana Valdes, and Ken + Julia Yonetani.

The exhibition concept was inspired by an interview with Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014). In examining the rise and fall of the European-dominated cotton empire, Beckert writes, “Because of the centrality of cotton, its story is also the story of the making and remaking of global capitalism and with it of the modern world.”

Indeed, goods such as cotton, sugar, salt, tea, etc. became a driving force behind the industrialization and expansion of Western civilization, weaving farflung populations, geographies, and market systems inextricably together to shape contemporary understandings of economics, politics, and nationhood.

The exhibition traces how this operating framework of capitalism – extracting labor and natural resources from colonized regions– has rippled across time. “The artists in RAW: Craft, Commodity, and Capitalism all approach the commodities they utilize as a form of biographical or historical record. Their use of these materials acknowledges the layers of repressed histories encapsulated in each commodity,” explains Exhibitions Curator Holly Jerger.

The exhibition spotlights commodities including salt, sugar, copper, water, tea, cotton, indigo, agave, and porcelain. Artist duo Ken + Julia Yonetanis Grape chandelier is beaded with salt sourced from the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, drawing attention to the problem of salinization in the region. Charmaine BeeSonya Clark, and Raksha Parekh investigate the African diaspora by tracing the migration, trade routes, and goods that historically accompanied the slave trade, such as sugar, cotton, and tea. Ignacio Perez Meruane experiments with copper, referencing how its excavation has scarred the landscape of Chile.

Atul Bhallas conceptual practice is centered around the politics of water in his birthplace, New Delhi, filling ten glass vitrines with river sand and water in his installation Immersions.

Amor Muñoz makes use of both henequen, or agave, as well as solar electricity, in establishing the community initiative, Yuca_Tech. Jovencio de la Pazs textile-based practice explores how colonialism and labor have been integral to the production of fabric and dyes, evidenced by the shades of indigo in his piece Bluets (for Maggie Nelson).

Finally, Juana Valdes questions the hierarchies associated with the luxury status of porcelain in her works, RedBone Colored China Rags and SED (-to thirst).

By taking a closer look at commodities, the exhibition allows complex issues such as these to be told, prompting audiences to consider how materials are used and distributed around the world. RAW: Craft, Commodity, and Capitalism examines the tangle of geopolitical and historical factors that tie together craft, community, and capitalism.

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