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Genesis Amnesia: Part 1

SANDY WILLIAMS IV

“Genesis Amnesia: Part 1 begins to recognize some of the many ways this amnesia has been built into our quotidian spaces and intervals, while also trying to plot new possibilities, and conversations towards cultural transformation. From the personal (not only physical) baggage that we keep around us, to the public monuments that never change, I am interested in how our concepts of history, and the stories we remember, are largely influenced by the things that are preserved, maintained, unaltered, or allowed to remain still. These things that claim space become ‘natural’ over time, to the point where we can no longer recognize their potential for change.”

Reynolds Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Genesis Amnesia: Part 1, an exhibition of two- and three-dimensional work by Richmond artist Sandy Williams IV. In his first solo exhibition with the gallery, Williams presents four different series of work which together embody his role as a painter, sculptor, performer, and poet. Genesis Amnesia: Part 1 opens on Thursday, March 4 with a reception with the artist from 3pm – 7pm, and will be on view through May 1, 2021.

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Williams’ work has continually addressed ideas of history, time and agency through works that question structures of power and representation in the United States. With his most recent work exploring the resizing and deconstructing of historic American monuments, the artist’s practice proves particularly powerful and poignant in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as recording and recounting major moments of social and political change. In Genesis Amnesia: Part 1, each of Williams’ four bodies of work on view—wax monuments, backpacks or Unattended Baggage (Time Capsule) series, sewn paintings, and concrete-filled tanks—communicate a provocative theme. These works, in some capacity, require the viewer to visually and physically engage with them; by implicating the viewer, Williams concretely identifies the way we observe and take part in history.

Genesis Amnesia is a reckoning against the colonization of time – as it is – and an attempt to characterize (or give material to) some of the intricate paradigms of temporal and spatial oppression that exist all around us. From monuments to micro-aggressions, these racialized systematics were engineered into our nation at its inception, evolved with its expansion, and now simultaneously pervade and exist invisibly within our society. Genesis Amnesia refers to those devices that make these systems invisible, and the various ways we are encouraged to forget – via a reset function – that asks us to take the present as self evident – it is what it is – and forget those events that delivered us to this point in time.
This reset can take many forms – a new name, new calendar, new flag, new maps, new gods, new money – and takes place after every major reconstruction, rebrand, regime change or revolution. By appropriating new symbols, and erasing what was there previously, institutions are able to fill the void of what was lost or destroyed, and develop new narratives, by popularizing images that celebrate this rebirth. In this way they are able to drive a wedge between what was and what is, and recreate the stories of their origins, almost always with a version more heroic than it ever could have been. A good example would be when British settlers began calling themselves Americans, or when they started calling people slaves.
Genesis Amnesia: Part 1 begins to recognize some of the many ways this amnesia has been built into our quotidian spaces and intervals, while also trying to plot new possibilities, and conversations towards cultural transformation. From the personal (not only physical) baggage that we keep around us, to the public monuments that never change, I am interested in how our concepts of history, and the stories we remember, are largely influenced by the things that are preserved, maintained, unaltered, or allowed to remain still. These things that claim space become ‘natural’ over time, to the point where we can no longer recognize their potential for change.
Furthermore, the work alludes to the invisible history of so many bodies – often Black, Brown, or indigenous – that were violently (re)moved and (dis)placed in order to create the now “historical” landscape of the United States. From colonization, to the Trail of Tears – from slavery and a failed reconstruction – to gentrification, it seems some bodies have always been ‘on the move’, their records left behind or erased, and were never allowed to develop new histories of their own. The reseting timers of the Unattended Baggage Series refers to that temporal reset of a violent nation building that erases the history of preexisting cultures, in favor of a new heroic timeline; a Genesis Amnesia that over time forgets what was there before it; a genocide perpetuating loss in three parts: the loss of lives, the loss of culture – its histories, practices, and artifacts – and finally, the loss of their memories.

Sandy Williams IV received his BFA from The University of Virginia in 2016, and his MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from VCUarts in 2019. He has held teaching positions at VCUarts and The University of Richmond, where he is currently an adjunct professor in the sculpture department. His work has been shown at Springsteen, Baltimore, MD; Guadalajara 90210, Mexico City, Mexico; Public Pool Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, VA; Co-Prosperity Sphere, Chicago, IL; New Release, Project Gallery V, and Socrates Sculpture Park, all, New York, NY.