BOCA RATON, Florida – “Raje,” an anti-heroine who fights against racial and gender stereotypes, is the only superhero one can encounter at the “Beyond the Cape” exhibition, which shows the influence of comics on contemporary art.
The Boca Raton Museum of Art – 66 km (38 mi.) north of Miami – is daring to go “beyond the cape” of superheroes with an exposition of more than 80 works by 40 artists inspired by comics and graphic novels and focusing on burning social issues.
Whoever expects to find Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman at “Beyond the Cape: Comics and Contemporary Art” instead will run across photos of Raje and paintings, sculptures, drawings and videos dealing with climate change, the gender gap, racial discrimination or violence in poor neighborhoods of big US cities.
“We’ve grown up with the comics, the comics tell us stories about our lives with great energy,” the museum’s executive director, Irvin Lippman, told EFE regarding “Beyond the Cape,” which will be open to the public until Oct. 6, although it’s not designed for kids.
Lippman said that this is not a comics exhibit but rather a sample of how contemporary artists drink from the wells of comics and graphic novels to create politically committed works dealing with “critical” social themes.
“The comics have been a source of inspiration for numerous artists, including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein,” added Lippman, who emphasized that they reflect our world and its problems in a graphic, powerful way that is able to open the public’s eyes to certain things.
The exposition features artists from different generations, some more than 80 years old, but also artists in their thirties.
Jamaican artist Renee Cox, born in 1960 and who began her career as a fashion photographer, created a portrait of herself as Raje, a woman of African origin who is the protector of people who have been discriminated against.
Her colors are not the somewhat typical red, white and blue, or the Stars and Stripes, but rather the black, yellow and green of the Jamaican flag, to which Cox adds a touch of red.
Raje does not use a cape and her high-heel black patent leather go-go boots coming halfway up her thigh are completely unlike the rather modest and comfortable calf-length boots worn by Wonder Woman.
As a sign of her power, Raje is photographed towering over the world, with Africa at her feet and flanked by handsome bare-chested African men.
In another work, Raje is shown in front a background of burning crosses that call up the idea of racist organizations, lynchings and slavery.
In one of the works by Chitra Ganesh, born in New York in 1975 into a family from India, the classic science-fiction comic heroes of the 1960s and ‘70s take on the elements of Hindu appearance and dress, along with “voice balloons” that speak about sexual freedom.
A large-format creation – titled “Foot,” by recognized New York artist Michael Zansky, the son of Louis Zansky, one of the first artists for “Classic Comics” including Superman in the 1940s – was selected to welcome visitors to the exhibition.
His “Saturn Series,” 4.8 meters (15.75 feet) high, is made of burned, engraved and painted plywood and has as its protagonists mythical creatures inspired by comics and historical images.
There is also a graphic novel dealing with Chicago street violence by Kerry James Marshall, the most sought-after African American artist at present, whose 1997 work “Past Times” sold at Sotheby’s a few days ago for $21.1 million.
The exposition was designed by Kathleen Goncharov, the senior curator for the Boca Raton museum, and Calvin Reid, who – besides being a respected journalist – is a specialist in comics.
The latter compiled the selection of 200 comics and graphic novels that the public can view at the exhibit in a specially designed reading space.