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If a picture is worth a thousand words, a hand gesture may be worth a few thousand more. With every subtle finger extension, palm inflection, or flick of the wrist, a gesture’s connotation and message can shift dramatically in the eye of the beholder—or remain confoundingly vague. Kandis Williams’s new series of collages, on view at SADE LA, mine the rich, symbolic language of the gesture in a manner that combines both formal allure and urgent politics.
Williams has sourced black-and-white reproductions of hands from historical photographs of prominent Civil Rights Movement activists: Malcolm X’s oratorical pointing finger and open palm; Gloria Richardson’s defiant push to a National Guardsman’s bayonet; and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s hands up-stretched in an expression of surrender. These photocopied gestures replicate in X’s, grids, and kaleidoscopic arrays across Williams’s paper and canvas supports. By emphasizing repetition, her collages suggest both its positive attributes (heightened visibility) and its negative consequences (diminished power). Likewise, they echo a similar foreboding blend of pop culture borrowings and social commentary found in Dada photomontage.
There is a distinct nod to violence in Williams’s works, both in the cuts and slices inherent to collage, and through the skulls and revolvers that appear elsewhere in the show. Though she has culled her imagery from the past, the ever-present dot matrix of the Xerox machine brings to mind other, contemporary forms of grainy mediation that we now witness on a near-daily basis: surveillance video and cellphone footage, often shocking in content. It is impossible not to revisit these proliferating hands without thinking of the present struggles with race and policing when, depending on the color of your skin, an everyday gesture such as reaching into your pocket can have disturbingly different repercussions.
Kandis Williams: Disfiguring Traditions runs July 2–July 30, 2016 at SADE (204 S. Avenue 19, Los Angeles, CA 90031).