Catinca Tabacaru Gallery on the Lower East Side is hosting the first solo exhibition of Xavier Robles de Medina, a Surinamese artist whose drawings explore a history that predates him, yet shapes his cultural identity. The exhibition, titled If you dream of your tongue, beware, presents a collection of eleven drawings ranging from painterly streetscapes to fragments of human interactions. His renderings are both strikingly detailed, yet simultaneously surreal—as seen in his piece Untitled, a large white space is strewn with rough cuts of partial heads and a woman’s calves extending beneath the hemline of her dress. They evoke a curious and exploratory spirit, as the viewer is left wondering at the details Robles de Medina chose to omit and why. “I’ve been mostly interested in a poetic transformation that happens when reconsidering factual information,” Robles de Medina tells The Creators Project. “First through a thoughtful selection of images, and then through delicate drawing or painting. The process for the kind of realism I’m interested in is highly rigorous, and very slow. When I find an image that resonates with me, it tends to be rich in binary relationships. The most obvious being 'light vs. dark.'"
As a Surinamese citizen, Robles de Medina is drawn to the political issues, both contemporary and historical, that shape his identity. Suriname is located on the northeastern coast of South America, bordered by Brazil to the South. Predominantly Caribbean in culture, it was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century and gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975. Robles de Medina explores this history and its modern ramifications in his art, collecting Surinamese images from documentaries, history books, even the news. “I have sourced specific images of moments to do with democratic referendums, immigration, and colliding of groups and cultures,” he says of his process. “This is a starting point from which I can start broadening evocations, through the treatment of my materials, the mark making, and specific decisions in abstracting, cropping, and layering the sources to discuss a more personal narrative.”
We continued drinking in silence (shown above) is one of his favorite drawings from the exhibition and an example of the political conversation stoked by his art, an interpretation of the marriage of past and present. “It’s based on a detail in a photo of the signing of Surinamese independence documents in 1975,” he says of the drawing. “That moment in Surinamese history was particularly divisive, and I think it’s the work in the show that most accurately conveys my feelings regarding developments in US and European politics this past year. It isn’t disagreement but rather a feeling of total alienation.”
Each image in If you dream of your tongue, beware invites the viewer to engage in a dialogue with the art and the world around them, to explore deeper socio-political and historical meanings in the works, and to reflect upon the resulting present through a narrative at times dreamy and fragmented while also detailed and hyper-realistic. Even the exhibition’s title evokes this duality. A line from Eliot Weinberger’s book An Elemental Thing, it is one in a series of dream interpretations from the Locondons in Mexico that reminded Robles de Medina of his own Surinamese dream interpretations. The title of the book, with its nod toward the granular, points to the fragments in Robles de Medina’s drawings. Its subject matter, which Robles de Medina describes as extending “so far into world history and culture that you get this deep and magical sense of human connectivity to nature, time, and each other,” parallels the theme beneath the surface of his exhibition.
If you dream of your tongue, beware is on display at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery through February 19. For more information, visit the gallery website.