Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Coming Soon: First Traveling Exhibition of Harmonia Rosales is Headed to Spelman College Museum, Her Paintings Explore Grand Narratives of Creation and Tragedy


AS SUMMER COMES TO A CLOSE and the fall semester beckons, the campus museum at Spelman College will be transformed into a temple of sorts when spiritual images by Harmonia Rosales are displayed throughout its galleries. Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based Rosales is of Afro-Cuban and Jewish Jamaican heritage, a milieu that informs her perspective and her practice. She reimagines and recasts European Renaissance paintings with Black subjects. Her history paintings invoke religious iconography and the transatlantic slave trade, exploring narratives of creation, tragedy, and survival.

“Harmonia Rosales: Master Narratives” is the artist’s first traveling exhibition. The show originated at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Art, Design, and Architecture Museum, under the title “Harmonia Rosales: Entwined.” Currently, “Master Narratives” is on view at the Memphis Brooks Museum in Tennessee through June 25. Next, the show travels to the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, Ga., where it opens Aug. 18.


HARMONIA ROSALES, “Still We Rise,” 2021 (oil and gold leaf on canvas, 60 x 55 inches / 152.4 x 139.7 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales, Private Collection of Hill Harper


The exhibition features 20 paintings and a large-scale, sculptural installation. Visitors will have to look up to view the long narrow work. In Rosales’s interpretation, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel adorned with Michelangelo’s frescoes becomes the hull of an overturned slave ship. She has illuminated the installation and emblazoned the interior with a series of figurative images that are details from her paintings. Titled “Master Narrative,” the ambitious work is the artist’s first sculpture.

“Harmonia Rosales is a natural storyteller. Rather than written word or oral tradition, however, she speaks through the rich gleam of oil paint. Her vibrant and visceral paintings seamlessly entwine the orishas (deities) and patakís (stories) of the Afro-Cuban Lucumí religion (and its West African Yorùbá origins) with canonical works of Renaissance art featuring Greek and Roman mythological and Christian biblical subjects,” Memphis Brooks curator Patricia Lee Daigle wrote in the catalog that accompanies the exhibition.

“Her works explore a complex and nuanced understanding of spirituality, survival, and the human condition. This is a world of Rosales’s own masterful creation rooted in various mythologies, oscillating between the personal and the universal. Working within the canon of art history, she upends this white, patriarchal master narrative by foregrounding the African diaspora as the primary lens through which to view the world.”

At Spelman, the museum has a new leader. Liz Andrews became executive director in fall 2021. She joined the HBCU’s museum from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where she was executive administrator in the Director’s Office. In a statement, Andrews said Rosales’s work is “both beautiful and challenging.” CT


“Harmonia Rosales: Master Narrative” will be presented at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta (Aug. 18-Dec. 2, 2023). The exhibition remains on view at the Memphis Brooks Museum in Tennessee through June 25


FIND MORE about Harmonia Rosales on her website

FIND MORE Recently, “Harmonia Rosales: Garden of Eve” was on view at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills


FIND MORE Among her curatorial projects at LACMA, Liz Andrews co-organized Black American Portraits,” showcasing 200 years of portraiture. The exhibition is currently on view at the Spelman College of Fine Art, through June 30


HARMONIA ROSALES, “Lady of Regla,” 2019 (oil on wood panel with 24k gold, 40 x 40 inches / 101.6 x 101.6 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales. Private collection


HARMONIA ROSALES, “DINIS DIAS’: Land of the Negros,” 2022 (oil, fabric, iron oxide, and 24k gold on Belgian linen mounted on wood panel, 36 x 72 inches / 91.4 x 182.9 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales, Private collection


HARMONIA ROSALES, “Forbidden Fruit,” 2021 (oil on wood panel, 48 x 36 inches / 121.9 x 91.4 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales, Courtesy of Dr. Keecha Harris


HARMONIA ROSALES, “Yemaya’s Ascension into the Waters,” 2019 (oil on linen, 20 x 20 inches / 50.8 x 50.8 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales, Private collection


From left, HARMONIA ROSALES, “Adam: Strangler Fig,” 2022 (oil on wood panel, 60 x 30 inches /152.4 x 76.2 cm); and HARMONIA ROSALES, “Eve: Strangler Fig,” 2022 (oil on wood panel, 60 x 30 inches / 152.4 x 76.2 cm). | Both works © Harmonia Rosales, Courtesy of Sol Aponte and Jennia Fredrique Aponte, Ingrid Best, Azita Fatheree and George Fatheree, Natasha Fatheree and Andreas Neumann, Hill Harper, Mira Hashmall, Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, Anika Noni Rose and Jason Dirden, Ayesha Selden, and Deborah Joy Williams and Terrence Williams


HARMONIA ROSALES, “Migration of the Gods,” 2022 (oil with iron oxide and 24k gold leaf on Belgian linen mounted on wood panel, 36 x 72 inches / 91.4 x 182.9 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by the Blackmon Perry Endowment Fund, 2022.2


In the exhibition catalog, Helen Morales, curator at UC Santa Barbara’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum, wrote: “In Harmonia Rosales’s Migration of the Gods (cat. 11), the orishas (Yòrúba deities) struggle ashore, having been trafficked from West Africa by Portuguese slave traders. Amid the scenes of violence and distress it would be easy to overlook a detail: one of the orishas is carrying a white bundle on his shoulders. The bundle is symbolic: inside are patakís, the stories told by practitioners of the Yòrúba-derived religion Lucumí or La Regla de Ocha, also known as Santería. The enslaved orisha is ensuring the protection of the stories about himself and his fellow gods. The detail prompts a stark realization: how precarious cultural survival can be.”


HARMONIA ROSALES, “Ori,” 2022 (oil on linen mounted on wood panel, 48 x 36 inches / 121.9 x 91.4 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales, Courtesy of the artist


HARMONIA ROSALES, “Garden of Eve,” 2022 (oil on linen mounted on wood panel, 48 × 72 inches / 121.9 × 182.9 cm). | © Harmonia Rosales, Private collection


Published on the occasion of the artist’s first traveling exhibition, “Harmonia Rosales: Master Narrative” is the first scholarly publication dedicated to the work of Los Angeles-based Harmonia Rosales. The volume includes essays by Patricia Lee Daigle, Helen Morales, Sophia Quach McCabe, Natalie McCann, and Efeoghene Igor Coleman. Fully illustrated, “Black American Portraits” documents the traveling exhibition organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to accompany its presentation of The Obama Portraits. “Black American Portraits” presents about 140 works produced over the past two centuries, mostly drawn from the museum’s collection.


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