In Penzance at the Exchange Gallery til May 6th, is an exhibition by photographer Joy Gregory, a major artist who came out of the Black British photography movement in the 80s. The show, which centres around issues of representation, race, history, gender and aesthetics, brings together 16 bodies of work spanning some two decades, and is a stark look at the construction of concepts of truth and beauty, all the more disturbing at this point in history as the world divides up once again behind walls both real and ideological, constructed from prejudice and fear. Rich and heavy with uncomfortable revelation, Gregory’s photographs pull in with beauty and pull up sharp with uncomfortable observations about marginalisation, power, identity, played out in objects, clothing, hair.
Objects of Beauty 1992-1995 is a set of twelve kallitype images – objects from the fashion industry, describing notions of ‘ideal’ beauty. Tape measures in some of the images referencing eugenics, anthropometry, underlining the inherent divisive narratives stitched within the construction of the clothing.
Bottle Blonde © Joy Gregory Courtesy Impressions Gallery
Bottle Blonde 1998, a cabinet of medical sample bottles containing dyed blonde hair from different racial backgrounds – African, Asian, European – was made referencing photographic darkroom technology, times and methods used in the toning process. The ‘successful’ black and white print depends heavily on a proscribed aesthetic, a search for the perfect print like the search for the right blond. In Gregory’s words: ‘blond is western society’s iconographic object of desire.’
Works in The Handbag Project 1998 – salt print photograms – draw in with their beauty and disturb profoundly when we learn that they are bags left in charity shops, sometimes with their original tags, unused, by wealthy white south African women during the apartheid years.
Loss is poignant, wry and familiar in Gregory’s Tales of Loss – small drawings made during a journey from South London to Hoy documenting the loss of tickets, money, luggage. In the series Sites of Africa 2001, the loss of history is disturbing, horrifying – her photographs of London locations associated with an African presence are at times overwhelming.
Only on til 6 May this is an unmissable show.