Shattered Glass: A Love Letter to South Central

Shattered Glass: A Love Letter to South Central

The Los Angeles show offers new visions from Black and Brown artists on body, heritage, political structures, and shared stories

Shattered Glass, the newly opened exhibition at the Jeffrey Deitch gallery in Los Angeles (running through May 22nd) is a reawakening: a common story, a narrative of celebration and community affirmation. The exhibition—which features 40 Black and Brown fine artists working in sculpture, figurative painting, and video works—creates a space that empowers the individual voices of each artist and puts the works together in the scope of a transformative and unified whole. 


This is the first show curated by LA Director of the Jeffrey Deitch gallery Melahn Frierson, alongside co-curator Antoine “AJ” Girard. A year of conversations, hard work, and dedication over distance went into its conception. Melahn and Antoine built the narrative of the exhibition collaboratively with the impressive roster of artists during the peak isolation of Covid-19, in the climate of tensions and national divisiveness following the murder of George Floyd. 


As a response to a year of violence, shock, and outrage, Shattered Glass represents a process of rebuilding intimacy and trust. While the idea of the exhibition originated  from social critique and community processing, the voice of the show is one of solidarity and celebration; it finds commonality in the bodies, hearts, the experiences of viewers and artists alike, and sets a new precendent for the representation and visibility of Black, Brown, femme, and non-comfortmist bodies in the artworld. Taking control of representation as a community, Shattered Glass at once uplifts the authority and authenticity of individuals and elevates a shared narrative, redefining the possibilities of these narratives, present and future. 

Tótem speaks with curatos Melahn Frierson and AJ (Antoine) Girard below.


Tótem: Hi Melahn, hi AJ. Where does Shattered Glass come from for each of you?


Melahn: Seeing what was happening last year with all the social unrest and injustice; seeing artists getting really frustrated and being asked to do things—especially artists of color—as reaction statements, I saw Shattered Glass as the perfect opportunity to come together and do something. 


So much of the show was giving artists the space to come and do what they wanted to—not having to portray some sadness, which I think a lot of people were expecting. There’s so much joy, and fun, and pride, and community and celebration. We wanted to show that. 


Antoine: I think it was a good invitation to put our time and talent together. A lot of these people are our community: we have friends, we have partners, we have brothers; we have all these different bonds existing. Shattered Glass is a different side of the story of LA. Something I keep saying is that it’s stories from south of the 110. There’s something really special and unique about that.


Tótem: How did you develop the narrative of the show?


Melahn: Shattered Glass felt perfect [as a title] because we were all so fed up with the structure of the art world and how things have been for so long: really wanting to, not change it, but completely destroy the old value system. We can’t just keep building upon things and making slight changes. We need to do something completely new, completely for us. I think after what everybody went through with COVID and all the violence and protests, we were like, ‘No more. We’re not going back to that.’ There’s something very refreshing about breaking it down and building from scratch as a community, together. 


Tótem: AJ, you’ve called the exhibition a ‘South Central love letter;’ can you elaborate on what that means to you, and your personal relation to the show?


Antoine: It’s so interesting to me that, in our openness to the actual people in our community, those stories of origin—where I came up from— have all shown up in the show. I’m from those neighborhoods, I was born there, moved to Texas, and I went to an HBCU. All of those experiences have shown up in the show. Diana Alvarado’s podiums remind me of home; Tyler Ballon’s crew neck that his dad is wearing reminds me of my college experience; the Perez Brothers’ work reminds me of the greatness of Houston. It became a love letter because everyone walks away feeling so refreshed. It’s a different parts of the same story. 

Tótem: How did you find the balance for works that both address current crises and offer up more celebratory, self-affirming visions for the present? 


Antoine: By following the artists’ sensibilities. We respected the boundaries of what the artists were envisioning. We had studio visits where I maybe wanted more drama, but the artist wanted to keep hope in front, and we respected the artist. I don’t think we labored anybody’s work. Any act of creativity is the resistance. 


Melahn: We were all going through a lot of emotions and reflections together, and I think that naturally dictated and shifted where the work went. Some people had an idea going in and ended up completely changing what they were going to do as the months went by and the show came together. 


Tótem: The show brings over 40 international Black and Brown artists in mixed fine arts media into one unified space. How did you decide who would be in the show, and how to put them in conversation with each other?


Melahn: A lot of people we met through the artists [we already had in the show]. The bond that they naturally had helped anchor the works together. 


Antoine: For me, it was about getting as many people as possible to the finish line. The only strategy we used was making sure every artist had the intention of speaking to the audience we didn’t even know was going to show up, yet. Almost every work on the wall was made for the gaze of young women, and Black and Brown, and other-bodied people. No one made this work with the art world in mind. We’ve found a new audience in LA, and we’re serving them, almost every day.


Tótem: How do you see Shattered Glass affecting people? 


Antoine: It’s a feat to say that in this world of social media oversaturation, this show is existing in people’s feeds as an invitation. Every time I’ve seen people share it, it’s like, ‘Y’all need to get out of your house and go see the work.’ 


Melahn: Get the word out! Some people haven’t really been out of their house in a year, and this show has been their first time out and they’ve been so glad they came. I feel like this has reawakened something in a lot of people. 


Antoine: It’s that creation of a feeling, again, from the darkest places. We were all in COVID: we were on Facetimes, we were on Zoom calls. My favorite memory of putting this show together was a meeting we had at the MOMA: our phones were dying left and right; we shared a set of AirPods to have a conversation. We just needed to get these things through. And we did it. There are artists that live on the east coast that are coming to visit the work. There’s a pride amongst the community on both ends: the people seeing the show are happy, the artists are happy. 


Tótem: On a larger scale, what do you think is the power of representational artworks to change culture?


Antoine: I think that no matter what, this show has already birthed new curators, new thinkers of color, new collectors of color, creators of color. And it’s not just about race. So many people have been spoken to. Mario Moore, Kezia, speak to full-figure, real life bodies. No other space in LA is offering those stories in a way that’s very approachable. I already know that this has helped sustain so many people. We just made a plate, and I didn’t expect so many people to be able to eat. 


This show opened on the first day of Spring. We didn’t plan that. If you think of this in the spirit of the season, we came into this show from a really dark time. We planted seeds we didn’t know were going to grow like this. There were moments when I had to give up control, moments where Melahn gave up control. There were moments of doubt, times when I didn’t think it was going to come together, but the people have made the middle part—the people who make up the show, the people coming to see the show. 

One of the main reasons to do this show was to introduce new and young artists to people making it as artists who aren’t following traditional avenues, or utilizing traditional forms. This isn’t some secret society or some closed club; we can share knowledge, we can help and support each other. It’s something I want to see keep going, and I think a lot of people are inspired by that when they come in here.


Caption and Photo Credit Information
Shattered Glass, curated by Melahn Frierson and AJ Girard, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2021
Photo by Joshua White
Interview by Alex Free
(@joshuawhitephotography / @white1977) on social media

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