Last weekend, I went to the Allan deSouza’s artist talk at the Berkeley Art Center. Familiar with his work, I was intrigued to find out more. Currently, deSouza has a video and photographic installation titled Close Quarters and Far Pavilions at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The piece is a four-channel video chronicling take-offs and landings to and from San Francisco. The video is spliced to look like a double image that resembles war craft like the Stealth Bomber.
deSouza is soft spoken but extremely articulate and refreshingly thoughtful regarding his art practice. He was born in Kenya and is currently based in San Francisco. Artists like Kenneth Noland, Duchamp, Jasper Johns, and his cultural identity/experience influence him. His wide art practices includes photographs, installation, texts, and performance based art.
During the talk, he discussed his health issues including cataracts in both eyes and a retina detachment. As a result, the artist via a PowerPoint presentation showed examples of what his sight has looked liked over the years. For example, he’s had double vision and floating orbs that looked like small silicone breast implants blocking his vision.
There is a direct correlation with deSouza’s vision problems and his art. He employs the mirrored image and showcases different perspectives both visually and intellectually. It’s hard to imagine as an artist, having to deal with such health issues. A fear most artists have is losing their sight. deSouza proves he has the courage to cope and motivation to move forward as an artist.
deSouza incorporates a variety of interesting materials into his pieces. For example, he used nail clippings to recreate the iconic hairstyles of various famous blond actresses laid on a bed of beard clippings. In a 2004 performance piece, deSouza acted as a server at an art opening about migrant workers. He shaved his head and face, then served the dirty water in glasses to viewers.
His photos share the same dichotomy of beauty and disgust. In The Lost Pictures series, deSouza postitioned his family images in everyday places. He put a photo in his bathroom sink where he washes his hands, brushes his teeth and etc… Also, a photo was put in his kitchen sink and endured its daily use.
deSouza likes to reinvent memory by creating a new narrative. He takes the ritual of human maintenance and finds a new use: art. This new perspective fades with cultural experience and time. According to deSouza: “…I am interested in my work as being not autobiography (or truth telling), but as a form of ethnography, as a focus on or my relationship to culture and how I might be located by and within it.”