Doreen Lynette Garner – Pale In Comparison

by Tracy Ann Simmonds 

Some artists have the innate capacity to consistently destroy, rebuild and then redefine everything we thought we knew about who and what exactly determines good art. I am bold enough to say that Doreen Lynette Garner is rightfully earning her place, specifically in the canon of unparalleled black artists in America who are fearlessly prolific in retelling our diasporic histories. Her exhibition, Pale In Comparison, features all new work “specifically engaging the pathological, palpably extant consequences of colonization and gentrification transmitted through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade” (SCAD).

“Roughly Documented, Three Million Eighty-Eight Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Six,” 2021
Silicone, staples, tattoo ink, glass beads, urethane foam,
steel, and hair weave
Courtesy of the artist; and JTT, New York

Envision yourself walking into a pitch black room, solely illuminated by realistic reproductions of the complexions and qualities of human flesh, apparently fresh glossy bodily fluids, invading organic growths, dismembered limbs in chains, grotesquely diseased innards, and highly textured hair. At first glance it was as frightening and overwhelming as a horror house ride, but there’s something about the precious jewel-toned vibrancy of it all that continues to draw us in for another look.

Welcome to the mind of this young talented SCAD deFINE ART featured sculptor, performer, and installation artist. A hesitancy to closely examine the gory details of Doreen’s work immediately rushed to the forefront of my mind. I urged myself to push past the confines of my subconsciously squeamish nature and consciously refocused my eyes. Intuitively, I was guided to slow my stroll as I approached the daunting jaws of a shark sculpture done to scale and carved open on one side as if for an anatomy class only to reveal a horrendous sight.

“When You Are Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea,” 2022 – Doreen Lynette Garner –
Silicone, urethane foam, steel, steel pins, pearls, glass beads, hair weave, resin clay, bone, crystal cabochons | Courtesy of the artist; and JTT, New York

My feet became seemingly cemented to the ground, my eyes unable to look away as the aesthetic beauty of a meticulous composition has the potential to consume a viewer. The shark was beautifully structured, cast and stretched with over five hundred pounds of steel, urethane foam, silicone and mixed media. The blood red glass beads, satin white pearls of all sizes and bling of rhinestones catching the light seduced me while the juxtaposition of traumatic pools of oozing yellow puss, tattooed small pox marks and a wide range of rendered gastro-intestinal processes nearly created the stench of death.

As the audience, we witnessed the partial digestion of a mangled brown body with only one recognizable foot still intact. The black box style gallery setting was the perfect choice. The darkness of the walls, ceiling and floor offered spectators the opportunity to fully participate in acknowledging this life changing model depicting a controversial shark from the TransAtlantic slave trade. It was as if the artist created a center stage moment for her viewers’ reactions, curated by the title “When You Are Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.”

My knees buckled and I nearly sat down on the ground as a tear drop formed and regressed. I selfishly wished I had seen it alone and shifted uncomfortably to allow blood to flow back to my feet, realizing that I may have been standing still in front of the open shark belly for at least seven minutes.

Never before had I been confronted with this aspect of black history, my history, in such a visceral manner.

“When You Are Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea,” 2022
Silicone, urethane foam, steel, steel pins, pearls, glass beads, hair weave, resin clay, bone, crystal cabochons Courtesy of the artist; and JTT, New York

Doreen Lynette Garner forces observers to participate by tapping into the putrid bowels of our ancestral memories, former slavers and former slaves alike, questioning what we all thought we knew about our treacherous past. In the Art21 award-winning digital film series New York Close Up, she says “I want the audience to walk away feeling like they can’t unsee what they just saw. Something that is burned in and lasts, and you can never get rid of it.”

Mission definitely accomplished, sis.

“When You Are Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” was created at SCAD’s Museum of Art over the course of roughly one month prior to opening night February 28, 2022. Her installation team aptly includes her shaman, I’m assuming to bless and protect her pure intentions behind the work. I asked her where all this powerful audacity came from to create such spiritual work on the museum grounds while openly and prayerfully burning incense and sage? She promptly told me about her amazing family and network of strong black women including her mom and aunts in Philly who never “suffer fools” and then offered me some of her tequila.

In the front room were replicas of the flags of the United Kingdom and Portugal comprised of sickly pink silicone diseased skin. On the visible side we saw a decidedly Frankenstein manner of stapled assembly, while mirrors on
the wall behind the flags reflected mauled limbs cast in brown silicone shackled and chained together as commentary on the brutal history these flags actually perpetuate and represent. Across from the flags were models of a horse she calls “The Pale One” and “White Bread,” first shown during Art Basel Miami 2021.

“White Bread” – Doreen Lynette Garner – 2022

When I asked her about “White Bread,” she simply responded with her regally stoic punk rock tone, “it’s the least nutritional food ever,” accompanied by a slight head shake and a smirk. The inner slices of decaying rotting bread surrounded by the brown crust overgrown with wooly black hair were as visually stunning and endlessly thought provoking as Doreen herself, who has the visage of a top model and I can never unsee her.

If you didn’t know before, now you know, and you heard it here first on Black Art in America: Collectors and fellow artists should keep a close watch on this one. She’s clearly a diamond in the silicone rough and superstar in the making. 

If you’re planning a trip to Savannah, Georgia schedule a visit to the SCAD Museum of Art and Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, celebrating its 10 year anniversary and see Doreen Lynette Garner’s  new work for yourself. Pale In Comparison is organized by SCAD MOA’s curator DJ Hellerman and is presented as part of SCAD deFINE ART 2022, on view now through July 21, 2022.

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Tracy Ann Simmonds is an artist’s artist who uses her personal work to dive deeply into studying identity and seeking understanding of her complex Caribbean heritage. Being born and raised in Queens, NY surrounded by diverse culturally rich experiences shaped her sense of being a globally responsible citizen at a very young age. She’s a photographer by trade with a glamor and fashion portrait studio in Fort Lauderdale, as well as a weekend wedding warrior, but she equally enjoys modeling and frequently sits for fellow photographers for art’s sake. Her passions align with continuing to validate the beauty aesthetics of black girls and women as an ode to self-healing and she taught visual and performing arts programming for 14 years in New York, Chicago and South Florida. Being a company member with Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago for four seasons while pursuing her BA in photography at Columbia College Chicago definitely shaped and informed her creative processes, normalizing traditional African beauty. Tracy Ann published “The Vision Project: A Coloring Book For Black Girls Who Rock” which features black and white coloring pages of portraits and symbols that celebrate the diverse magnificence of the African Diaspora in the United States. Fighting anxiety through the use of the arts is a recurring theme in her life and her interdisciplinary practice. She officially joined the Black Art in America team in 2021, tackling advertising sales, hosting podcasts and assisting with BAIA Foundation groundwork to continue a legacy of excellence in arts education and entrepreneurship. Her mentors, teachers, and coaches include Frank Frazier, Amaniyea Payne, Dawoud Bey, Carol Haliday-McQueen, Najee Dorsey, Obediah Wright, Kevin Iega Jeff, Crystal “The MOC” Chanel, Simone Kelly and Carl Anthony Jr. II. You can follow her on ig @miamiculturemaven

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