Photographer Jheyda McGarrell captures dreaming and introversion in the PoC community in a new exhibition curated by Sage Adams
When we think of political activism, we are liable to conjure up images of impassioned multitudes, of hoards of nameless protestors at the barricades sacrificing their individual selves for the greater cause. Too often, when we want to see social change, we disregard the need to reach down inside ourselves, for introversion and rest.
Dolce Far Niente is a new exhibition by 20-year-old photographer Jheyda McGarrell of Art Hoe Collective, the online movement that supports and brings together artists and people of colour. Curated by Dazed 100’s Sage Adams, the show is all about – as the title suggests – the “sweetness of doing nothing”. Throughout, McGarrell's ethereal film photography of friends and fellow artists will encourage viewers to drift off into a somnolent world where PoCs unwind in bed, at rest, and in love.
Dotted around the exhibition space in LA are Virgin Marys and durags, statuettes of angels painted black, and fresh roses that slowly wilt throughout the duration of the show. Like in a dream, cultural signs and signifiers – portents of death and oppression – permeate the gallery space, without directing the solitary subjective experience of visitors and the people in the portraits. Dolce Far Niente is an artistic project that reconceptualises the collective PoC experience as an accumulation of individual identities, showing the beauty of black and Asian bodies on their own terms.
As McGarrell has been doing since the beginning of Art Hoe Collective, Dolce Far Niente enriches the wide-ranging narrative around diversity and representation. Ahead of opening night this Saturday, Dazed spoke to the young artist about putting together their latest project, and what they hope it will bring to the burgeoning Art Hoe community.
“As a person of colour, being able to give myself and others space to focus on ourselves and loving and enjoying our lives means a lot to me” – Jheyda McGarrell
In what ways does this project follow on from your previous work and last year’s photo book, Becoming the Woman You’d Want Me to Be?
Jheya McGarrell: This project follows the book by continuing my representation of my personal narrative as an objective viewpoint on the collective experience. When I released the book, I was turning 19, and had just started making enough money to take film photos. I fell really in love with it. I had been taking photos obsessively since one of my best friends and her family died in middle school and I kinda used it as a method to relieve my anxiety of losing people. Film took this love to a different realm because now the moments were physically tangible.
I used the book as a diary and documentation of my life, love, heartbreak, peace, etc for the closing out of my teenage years. In the show, I kinda move away from this purely documentary space and move into a space of hyperrealism. I’m in a place where I want to use my art to create a construction of a world of beauty and peace. A world I envision – an enlightened, dreamt up future to hold space for. The book focused on my process of becoming and the show is the next step in this train of thought, focusing on a world of normalised fluidity, self-awareness, indulgence, and familial peace that I am dreaming of living in.
Can you please tell us a bit more about the title, Dolce Far Niente.
Jheyda McGarrell: Dolce Far Niente is an Italian phrase that means “the sweetness of doing nothing”. I wanted to look at the combination of idleness and the ability to be carefree. A lot of stereotypes about people of colour say we are lazy, not hardworking. I’ve found myself constantly asking, “can we ever experience the notion of peace in these bodies or are our off moments considered moments of laziness?”
Currently, the immigration surrounding the United States has removed children from their families and forced them separately into different internment. The immigrant children being forced away from their families are taken away basic rights of love, family, and shelter. They are taken away these simple moments and pleasures that make life so beautiful. I want every moment I can spend in peace to gain the potential to last a lifetime, lived over and over again, to reclaim the lives lost. I want to know that among the heavy times where people like us are ripped away from peace, that we can still feel love and see beauty. As the child of immigrants, I wanted to capture my experience as a first-generation American, black Latina living in a world that gives us perceptions of ourselves and culture that deny our humanity. I want to give a face to the experience of people coming from these various backgrounds and normalise our visions and existence.
The ability to find moments of peace and to heal/guard our bodies against capitalism and oppression is such a privilege many people of colour do not get to enjoy. On a day to day, people pray for peace. This ability to do nothing and feel its sweetness, to sit underneath a tree and eat a mango, to skip a day of work, to go to the beach, to be free to relax in your body, is so important. As a person of colour, being able to give me and others space to focus on ourselves and loving and enjoying our lives means a lot to me.
What was it like working with your fellow curator at Art Hoe Collective, Sage Adams?
Jheyda McGarrell: It was really amazing. They noticed patterns and saw symbols represented in different images that I would’ve never seen. As a curator, they have made the job of relaying my message much easier. I am a very one-track mind type person, but their thought process allowed me to see different ways of expression.
Sage is one of my best friends, so in my capturing of my everyday experience, they’re going to be there. A lot of my comfort in finding myself has been through the people I surround myself with.
That being said, how did you choose the subjects for each of these portraits?
Jheyda McGarrell: The choice for the subjects was pretty organic, I just take photos of my friends and the people around me. I think a lot of disillusionment is caused by looking for the perfect subject, and it usually involves emphasising Eurocentric beauty standards. I take photos of the things that I’m interested in thinking about and the things I find beautiful. I want to tell the stories of bodies that are typically not represented and normalise them by indulging in my own experience.
Art Hoe Collective was founded and grew exponentially as an online movement. How does it feel to bring your work off the screen and into the real world?
Jheyda McGarrell: The collective has always been about creating a community for QTPOC, so last year when we started doing physical events, it felt like the logical next step. We were able to meet the faces behind the usernames we saw daily, to fill the room with music and laughter and to come together in a place full of black and brown people. Lately, I’ve become obsessed with having more experiential parts to my art. Kind of along the ideals of performance art, something to be experienced, left in the moment, and documented by certain means. Something that cannot be bought and sold.
The press release for the show talks about the images “encouraging viewers to flow mentally inward and then outward toward external reality”. In your personal opinion, what’s the importance between looking inward before we look outward?
Jheyda McGarrell: I think the biggest external reason I make my art is to self-reflect. I want others to self-reflect. To see what I see, and acknowledge how it relates to them. To read what I say and think about the way they’ve felt that way or made others feel that way. The reason people perpetuate cycles of oppression is that they never stop to process and learn from their own mistakes. I just want to tie my experience to the idea of the collective experience so everyone can feel they might have been born me, and if they were... what would they do, what would they think, what would they feel? We have to look inward and see the immense potential we have to cause positive change or to cause harm, from there we can flow outwards and show our decision through our actions.
The opening reception of Dolce Far Niente will take place July 7 from 7pm–10:30pm at 443 Lei Min Way in Chinatown, Los Angeles