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Review: Grassroots and Queer Tropics

A Prospect.4 show and Pelican Bomb exhibit explore racial identity and LGBT representation

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"Identity" has been a hot topic in much of America since at least the 1960s. Los Angeles-based artist Genevieve Gaignard's exploration of her biracial identity was inspired by her Creole father and white mother. Her two-room installation in the Ace Hotel lobby, a Prospect.4 installation, is inviting and accessible: Visitors can walk in and make themselves at home. One room (pictured), reflects her father's deep family roots in New Orleans via a tidy vintage living room adorned with family photos, bowling trophies and a classic 1960s dual portrait of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — all flanking three large, modern photo portraits of Creole women wearing tignons, the once mandatory colonial-era head coverings that black women subversively transformed into chic fashion statements. Here the three women appear as icons of cultural memory, timeless observers whose wary gazes remind us that history is never entirely past, but lives on in an endless variety of ways. The other space features church pews and mirrors interspersed with Gaignard's self-portraits as different characters reflecting a range of racial, regional and cultural variations in an installation that's like an old-time chapel transformed into a space for meditating on the fluid, situational nature of identity. Gaignard renders the work with a colorful mix of irony, humor and pathos.

  Queer Tropics, curated by Charlie Tatum, illustrates how the Western world's romanticization of the tropics parallels how LGBT people long have been portrayed as "exotic" in the fever dreams of Western imaginations. Here the mythology of the tropics as a realm of abandon, lassitude and "Southern decadence" infuses an array of works by eight artists, including some intriguing videos by Carlos Motta examining the legacy of early Spanish missionaries' encounters with indigenous peoples. There also are some strategically surreal graphical works by Joiri Minaya, Adrienne Elise Tarver and Victoria Martinez, whose colorful floor-to-ceiling tapestry inspired by her Mexican neighborhood in Chicago conveys something of America's own newfound exoticism. Grassroots. Runs through Feb. 25. Ace Hotel, 600 Carondelet St., (504) 900-1180; www.acehotel.com. Queer Tropics. Runs through Feb. 25 at Pelican Bomb Gallery X, 1612 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., (504) 252-0136; www.pelicanbomb.com.

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