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In response to the Black Lives Matter uprising occurring across the world due to the countless and senseless deaths of black people at the hands of police, we are revisiting an exhibition from 2017. That January, directly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, Atlanta-based artist, Michi Meko, debuted a new suite of works at the Dodd Galleries addressing black life in America post-Obama. Due to recent events, finding the show so prescient, we reached out to Meko with the idea to repost the exhibition. He agreed: "Go for it!," he wrote in an email. "It's the perfect time."
To be a part of the movement, take action today:
Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/
Black Lives Matter: https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/
Below is the original essay by Dodd Galleries Director, Katie Geha.
Exhibition as Warning, Lament
One Last Smile Before the Undertow is an exhibition as warning; a red flag for what might pass in our new administration. The title is a lyric from a Shabazz Palaces’ song and for the artist, Michi Meko, it encapsulates his feelings since November 9th. “This show opens right after the inauguration,” he explains. “And I just feel like we are all preparing to go out into an unknown and already that unknown seems turbulent, like something that is going to take us out to sea.”
Meko grew up in Alabama and his connection to water, whether it be through sailing or fishing, runs deep: “The sea for me is the perfect metaphor for black lives; love and migration and movement.” As such, the works in the show reflect the vernacular of travel by water. A series of drawings, roughed up marks of blue and red on a layered black background act as nautical flags, warnings, whereas buoys remind the viewer to remain buoyant and resistant in the face of fear and danger. “Anchors” in the form of a chandelier and a gourd suggest the necessity of digging in, a persistent fastening to the landscape.
A large wall piece, the third in a series of five, is an immersive map or a backdrop to how Meko imagines we might now navigate this unknown America: “How does one that is Other navigate public space?” he asks himself. “Am I paranoid? Do I have a right to be concerned?”
Just as the exhibition is a warning, it is also a lament. The last smile of the title is a reference to Barack Obama’s gleaming toothy smile which Meko noticed everywhere these past eight years as Obama’s photo hung proudly in barber shops, black owned business, and homes across the South. A bright shining beacon of light, now dimmed. Sun Ra’s journey song When There is No Sun, a lament in its own right, played on repeat while Meko was working on this show, setting the tone for the series of works. Sun Ra sings slowly over a moody piano, “Sky is the sea of darkness, when there is no sun to light the way.”
-- Katie Geha, Director, Dodd Galleries
Michi Meko has exhibited widely, most recently holding solo exhibitions at Chimento Contemporary, Los Angeles, CA; Cress Gallery at University of Chattanooga; Westobou Gallery, Augusta, GA; and MOCA GA, Atlanta GA. Group shows include Contemporary Arts Center, Mobile, AL; Artspace New Haven, New Haven, CT; Zuckerman Museum of Art. Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw GA; and Hammonds House Museum, Atlanta, GA among many others. In 2017 Meko was awarded two prestigious grants: the Atlanta Artadia Award and the Joan Mitchell Award. In addition, Meko has received a DashBoard Co-Op Residency Grant, an Idea Capital Grant, a Flux Projects Grant, and a Wonderroot CSA Grant. He is represented by Alan Avery Art Company, Atlanta and Chimento Contemporary, Los Angeles. His work is collected in the permanent collection of the High Museum of Art.
Installation photos by Brittainy Lauback