Lola Flash at Pen + Brush

Art Scene

Lola Flash at Pen + Brush

In several interrelated yet distinct bodies of work, photographer Lola Flash presents an engaging oeuvre of portraiture in her self-titled exhibition Lola Flash 1986 – Present at Pen + Brush. Flash’s longstanding engagement in New York City’s art scene, her work on gender, race and sexual norms, and Pen + Brush’s 124 years of commitment to women in the literary and visual arts are a perfect fit for the retrospective.

Lola Flash, Carrie Mae Weems (the “[sur]passing” series)

Dozens of portraits fill two floors of exhibition space in both small- and large-scale formats. In the series “[sur]passing” and “surmise,” several portraits shot with a 4×5 film camera are larger-than-life. “[sur]passing” probes the intricacies of skin tone in the construction of black identity, the historical privileging of light skin that still exists today, and the overcoming of that narrative by light skinned individuals. “surmise” explores queer personhood disrupting traditional, physical identifiers of gender. The latter also privileges an individual’s ability to define gender in lieu of one assigned by societal agreement.

Lola Flash, Confetta (the “surmise” series)

Both series allow viewers to gaze back into the eyes of subjects who challenge simplistic categorizations of identity based on assumptions about skin color, gender and sexual appearance. The agency given to the subjects in the photographs is powerful. Their direct gaze and the hanging of the photographs at a height that in most cases will require the viewer to look up reverses traditional power dynamics.

LEGENDS installation view, Photo by Anders Jones

In the series “LEGENDS” a grid of small scale color portraits features individuals who have lived outside socially prescribed identity roles while simultaneously being vocal leaders in advocating for human rights and equality. What is significant about the series is that many of the individuals are not familiar faces of mainstream popular culture, their personal style speaks volumes, and their social justice advocacy started far before the Trump era, in arguably more dangerous times. According to exhibition wall text, the work is an “ode to those queer and non-gender conforming trailblazers…the grace and the pride of those who were not complacent while combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism.”

Lola Flash, Toni Parks (the SALT series)

A rarely presented cohort of individuals is presented in a smaller downstairs gallery with a sound installation. The portrait series, “SALT,” features women over 70 years of age who are still vibrantly engaged in their passions. Interviews with the women can be heard through speakers installed in the gallery ceiling. Each woman is presented in what appears to be their own eclectic home, filled with the souvenirs and personal comforts of a long life. Women of all sizes, shapes and colors are featured effectively erasing the invisibility of this particular demographic, while simultaneously offering a counterpoint to the limited conception of womanhood found in glossy magazines and mainstream culture.

The exhbition is far from a cursory or standard look at race and gender. Instead, it offers insight into the deeper nuances within particular communities that are rarely shared with the outside world. Lola Flash, 1986 – Present is on view at Pen + Brush through March 27, 2018.