Raksha Parekh, “Two Pillars”

September 9 - 30, 2016 at L.A. Artcore, Downtown#mce_temp_url#

by Kathy Zimmerer

Closely intertwined with racial politics, the production of cotton and the history of slavery are encapsulated in the potent exhibit "Made in Cotton," featuring the edgy work of Mark Steven Greenfield, Karen Hampton and Raksha Parekh. Each artist utilizes cotton in variegated ways, sometimes as powerful imagery as in Greenfield’s delicate linear abstractions of cotton fields, or as actual media as in Parekh’s layered cotton constructions tied to her South African heritage.  Hampton also appropriates cotton as the material for the passionate exploration of her heritage in images of powerful matriarchs holding court on her suspended textiles.


Raksha Parekh, “Two Pillars,” 2008, raw cotton, cotton fabric, burnt sugar, glue, dimensions variable.



Greenfield’s imagery is always incisive and chilling as he reams history to pull out the stops in his continuing series of works probing racial and political bias. Slavery and its residue of social injustice and inequality still looms large in the political landscape. Historically, cotton production is among the unhappiest reminders of this terrible engrained burden of subjugation. In "On the Money #2," the outlines of the cotton fields are patterned in Greenfield’s spiky cursive line, while a large circular image of slaves picking the crop (borrowed from decommissioned U.S. currency) is placed on the abstracted ground. He then repeats the circles that are now devoid of imagery, and hangs them from dainty webs of black lines so they fall randomly over the field. Bare of imagery these circles echo the romanticized tableau from the currency and imbue his work with tragedy. A happy slave holding his cotton is the focal point of "On the Money #3," becoming a powerful symbol of all the stereotypes of the African American historical experience in its shameful legacy. Sometimes Greenfield just uses the cotton field ("Vague Memories of Cotton X") in all its abstracted glory, letting the wood grain show through.

Hampton's family genealogy is on display in a series of suspended textiles that use layers of imagery and writing to create evocative, rich narratives. She immerses her stories in the media of cotton, natural dyes, media transfers, and hand stitches her oblique words. "Conjurer’s Daughter" shows the repeated image of a little girl, perhaps the artist as a child, with her parents in the background. In the background are glowing burnt orange and luminous gold squares of a piece of hand woven African Kente cloth, against which float mysterious words. Her origins reside in the Kente cloth, which forms a complex foundation for her contemporary life. She further delves into her ancestry in "The Matriarchs," an installation of outlined female images created with a continuous line and text, including contradictory phrases like 'wash, rinse, shake' in one panel, and 'goddess of love and luxury' in the other. These powerful women are presented as inspiring spiritual leaders who hold heritage and family together by sheer fortitude.

Parekh works in an abstract vein, transposing her South African legacy into poetic assemblages composed of elemental natural materials that include raw cotton, sugarcane, gourds and burnt sugar. Her large installation pieces are created by layering and stacking these materials into potent, all-encompassing sculptures such as "Two Pillars," a striking, large-scale arc. “Crossings" could be the story of any immigrant’s journey. Multiple gourds are laid on the floor like boats, while two pieces of wood lean against the wall, ready as planks for the traveler to cross at the end of the journey. In "Stacked and Glued" she uses cotton to form a raw abstract grid that pulses with energy and texture.


All three artists use cotton in a multiplicity of ways to tell their stories, whether they be the historical remnants of slavery in Greenfield’s disturbing cotton field paintings, the vagaries of ancestry and contemporary life in Hampton’s lyrical textile hangings, or the complex backdrop of South Africa in Parekh’s vibrant installations.