Kavi Gupta presents Radical Optimism, a special digital exhibition of works by artists rebelling against cynicism to imagine a joyful future for humanity.
In the weeks that self-isolation and social distance have become the new normal, we hear the same phrases again and again on the news and in advertisements: “in these uncertain times,” “in these challenging times,” “in these troubling times.”
We understand their meaning—that with more than a million worldwide cases, COVID-19 has presented the entire world with a uniquely harrowing ultimatum. Nonetheless, for most people, life can often be uncertain, challenging, and troubling. Before COVID-19, we were bearing witness to so many other catastrophes: the Syrian civil war, the war in Yemen, the collapse of civil society in Venezuela, and climate-related disasters such as floods in the American South and fires from Australia to California. All too often, the human condition is one of unavoidable suffering—so much so that it has become a radical gesture to promote an optimistic worldview, and to try to chart a course towards a better future for us all.
Yet, there are some artists who wear the label of radical optimism like a badge of honor. Their art is a living record of their belief in the potential for love to overcome despair.
Radical Optimism celebrates works by Inka Essenhigh from Uchronia, her recent series presenting a vision of a future in which humanity has resolved its conflicted relationship with the ecosphere; Jeffrey Gibson from his recent exhibition CAN YOU FEEL IT, inspired by the hopeful, welcoming, inclusive atmosphere of Chicago’s house music scene; AFRICOBRA co-founders Wadsworth Jarrell and Gerald Williams, whose historic paintings present definitive, constructive visions of Black pride; Deborah Kass, from her evocatively titled series Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times; Mary Sibande, showing her avatar Sophie entering her purple phase, representing the end of Apartheid and the beginning of a more egalitarian future for South Africa; Michael Joo, whose silver nitrate works “render visible the invisible,” bridging humanity and nature by allowing viewers to literally see themselves within the work; and Tony Tasset, whose instantly recognizable, Pop-like forms evoke the sense of everyday aspirationalism often embedded within the American visual vernacular.
Radical Optimism seizes this cultural moment to assert that although humanity has always faced uncertain, challenging, and troubling times, and this current challenge has brought us to our knees, there remain many among us who dare to imagine a better future.