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Step into Shawn Theodore's World of "Afromythology": Exhibit Review

by Veronica E. Thomas

A review on Philadelphia-based photographer Shawn Theodore's "A Castle Beyond Inland Delta: Icons of Afromythology” exhibition.

“The salon of Oluchi Oneya and Leenos The Forgiving”, 2018

Photographer Shawn Theodore’s “A Castle Beyond the Inland Delta: Visions of Afromythology” opening provides a fresh take on how we can experience the Black body. Showcasing images from 2017 and 2018, this collection strings together a concentration on the beauty of pure Blackness in the form of features, dress, and culture. Featuring over a dozen selected pieces, the intimate space was enhanced by the low lighting and the distance between the photographs on the wide, white walls created a sense of gravity that was necessary for experiencing each image.

Of course, anyone with well-studied knowledge on the various cultures across the African diaspora could spot tiny details from the Xhosa-like jewelry in Fruits of Comets Series and even to American southern debutante society as seen in “Oluchi Oneya, no.1”. Which begs the question, what cultural experience was Theodore intending to encapsulate? The answer is in his use of composition, the background of a standard African American neighborhood, the white porch and wicker chairs invoking the style of traditional plantation homes- all contrasted with movement, asymmetrical positions, richly decorated subjects whose skin contrast strongly with their clothing and drab surroundings. Theodore’s composition is a true amalgamation of an African-inspired Africa-America in a fantasy setting, thus the fitting title, “Afromythology”.

“Oluchi Oneya, no.1”, 2018

After the initial walk-through, it’s easy to miss an additional three images clinging to the upper side of the wall on the far right which is a great shame considering how beautiful those images were. Too often, the Black woman’s body is exploited through nudity and overt sexuality within and without the art world, but these pieces showcased great beauty and sophistication that needed a full frontal display. Those three deserved more attention and spotlight, but with limited space comes limited organizational decisions.

Overall, Theodore has crafted a world that individuals from any and all backgrounds should experience firsthand. From the pure coloration to the use of light, shadow, and composition, Theodore’s subjects are present and powerful, even in the darkest setting. His work is a physical manifestation of Afromythology and magical realism at its finest.

“King Obelus the Martyred”, 2017

"A Castle Beyond Inland Delta: Icons of Afromythology” at Rush Arts Philadelphia from December 28, 2018 to January 25, 2019. More information: rushphilanthropic.org

#artexhibit #afromythology #afrocentricity #photography