Donelle Woolford’s artworks investigate the performance of authenticity and originalityparticularly in relation to African aesthetics and their assimilation by European modernism. Through her paintings, installations, and performances Woolford inverts the conventions of Cubismabstraction, collage, the painting as objectby remaking the movement in her own image.
For her show at De Expeditie, Donelle Woolford will transform the gallery into a kind of stage, performing a series of actions (doubling, copying, multiple points of view) that repeatedly explore the relationship between narrative, source material, image and author. From across the room, Donelle Woolford’s artworks resemble the work of Picasso, Braque, or even Gris. Up close the paintings reveal themselves to be carefully assembled scraps of wood and have the appearance of approximations, of stage props. Given Woolford’s success over the past year and the heightened state of self-awareness that success has engendered, her new paintings focus on the original Cubist’s obsession with identity, portraits, and mirrors.
In an interview several years ago Woolford stated, “I make Cubism relevant to now by both recognizing and refuting its origins. In my paintings, carefully assembled scraps of woodoutcasts, marginal pieces, the residue of primary modes of productioncoalesce into images culled from memory. The question is: which memory? My experience as an African American woman? My college education? My visits to MoMA? On what knowledge, what experience, is my recognition of Cubism based?”
This healthy skepticism about the origins of culture and identity can be applied to Donelle Woolford herself, who in fact is not a real person but a fictional character inhabiting a narrative that is unfolding before our eyes. Donelle Woolford is comprised of a set of overlapping tropesAfrican American, working girl, hot young artist, avatarall of which are shaped by her portrayal by different actresses and the reception those portrayals receive from venue to venue. Thus people who have seen Donelle Woolford in the United Arab Emirates (Namik Minter) or in London (Abigail Ramsay) will find still another variation of the character in Amsterdam, where she will be portrayed by the American actress Jennifer Kidwell. It is through these plays of interpretation and memory that Donelle Woolford’s story, Rashomon-like, contradicts itself and moves forward.
Donelle Woolford was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1977. She has had one-person shows at Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris; Wallspace, New York and Artissima, Torino. She has also participated in the 8th Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates and Double Agent at the ICA, London. She currently lives in Harlem, New York City.
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