Western Project is proud to present the first solo exhibition by Jessica Wimbley. An MFA graduate from the University of California at Davis (2005), the artist lives and works in Claremont California. Her bold new series, I Am Katrina delves into a myriad of cultural and personal territories: issues of identity, history, diaspora, class, integration, mobility, and narrative. Moreover, the series asks: Whose gaze is this? What is the American Dream and who has access to it? What is Homeland? What is origin, what is the macrocosm, what are shifting observations? Using images from numerous sources, her photographs and collages posit these questions in metaphor and allegory, setting up new and poetic narratives. Utilizing original images shot on location in Louisiana combined with internet and media searches along with the vision of other artists and scientists (biochemist Dr. Mona Monfared), the work is collaged and manipulated, integrating many avenues into a collective voice and expansive gaze.
Wimbley uses the Louisiana Creole legend of Marie Therese Coincoin (1742 - 1816), as a starting point of wisdom, beauty and freedom - ideals which form and become the figure of Katrina in her narratives.
Katrina serves as a figure that observes, participates, prophesizes, bares witness, conjures and creates narrative in the work- she serves as the gaze and holder of metaphor- serving as a Wild Seed/ Parable of the Sower sci-fi, integrated Octavia Butleresque marker of change.
In the work, Their Ears Were Listening to God, the artist photographs herself as Katrina using Biblical tropes such as the burning bush with images of explosions and volcanic eruptions. The bamboo along the Cane River serves as a cosmic Garden of Eden where she is engaged in creating; a vessel and holder of consciousness, an observer moving through time and space.
Wimbley shifts microcosm and macrocosm, juxtaposing images of DNA gels and African hair follicles with constellation and star-cluster images; referencing history, travel and metaphorically, the migration of peoples across the planet traveling towards a home or freedom.
Popular culture symbols expand her narratives with the use of designer fabric images (Burberry, Louis Vuitton) pointing to status and class. The yellow brick road from the film, The Wizard of Oz appears frequently as a metaphor for the diaspora experience. In I Am.., Wimbley uses scenes from the hurricane-flooded 9th Ward in New Orleans with child survivors from the Haitian earthquake - Katrina's gaze is blinded by the storm's vortex; she is the duality of part and whole, watcher and participant.
Regarding conceptually structured works such as Rug, Wimbley writes:
Rug uses the pattern of a Navajo Rug as a system relating ideas of history and origin, the construction of narrative both figuratively and literally within the digital medium, linking the construction of gaze, and history to the building the pieces of a puzzle, of pattern, but serves also as a sort of tapestry to what is underneath origin narrative.
Ideas about the origin of humanity, creation and the formation of history expand and intersect in Wimbley's vision; time is traversed and multiple stories are mitigated and gathered from our digital universe. Crucially the work asks: Who is seeing? Perhaps the gaze is both intimate and cosmic, an ultimately mysterious authorship.
Jessica Wimbley has been included in exhibitions at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art in Athens Georgia, California State University at Long Beach, Long Beach, California, National Palace of Culture/Lessedra Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria, 21st Century African Youth Movement, Sierra Leon, Africa, and other galleries and institutions in the United States.