Monica King Projects is pleased to present a destination exhibition of work by Kharis Kennedy, TESTIFY, which will transport the viewer to the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands where the artist lives and works. This installation of Kennedy’s mixed-media works examines how the destructive forces that render bodily, psychological, and geographic topographies vulnerable and damaged may also be catalysts for revelation, reconstruction, transformation, and empowerment.
Kennedy’s artworks are installed across two sites: a modern home devastated by the recent sister hurricanes Irma and Maria and a historic structure that lies in ruins from the passage of time and relentless forces of nature prevalent on St. John and throughout the islands, which are historically places of resistance, destruction, and rebirth. Her gestural paintings and drawings depict women, girls, and animals who, like the islands, are particularly susceptible to pernicious and often unavoidable forces. The artist is interested in recording the impact of the particular forces of time and aging on the female body both physically and also questioning what is passed down generationally whether explicitly through cautionary tales, genetically through memory inheritance, or through the land itself. The artist chose to depict animals in that they serve not only as reflections and extensions of our internal states but as a reminder that these creatures are our closest tie to the natural world. Kennedy’s subjects communicate not only vulnerability but also a sense of power that is rooted in the body, which is evident in how some of the human figures are portrayed partially nude and in unguarded yet assertive poses. Laying everything bare, the works speak to how the act of bearing witness can upend traditional notions of power and control and allow for the creation of new narratives. Likewise, the paintings are installed in structures that, stripped bare of their protective roofs, windows, and doors by the brutal elements, convey a sense of defiant resilience by their survival and the testimony writ on their walls of the damage endured.
Through inviting us to witness the multifaceted dialogue between the specific island topography and her artwork Kennedy has provided the means to explore the universal experience of how in parallel to our internal state, devastation and upset in our natural world forces us, collectively and individually, to adapt and persevere.