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Janice Nakashima @ Axis

 You may not have noticed, but we are in the middle of a map-making epidemic. It began in the early ‘90s when artists started using maps to talk about identity and race.  But instead of drying up, as most trends do, this one’s actually picked up speed.  Now, it seems, artists everywhere are painting maps, slicing up maps or feeding raw data into computers to produce winking, blinking maps of everything from trans-national travel patterns to such seemingly mundane activities as the movement of books in and out of libraries. Several days ago I saw a collection of laminated maps conjoined by zippers, which I thought was pretty funny until I realized that under this scheme, anyplace on Earth could be seamlessly grafted onto any other place, like pieces of a modular toy. 

 
Presently
In “Wander, Wander”,  at Axis Gallery through May 31, Janice Nakashima offers a primordial take on mapping in which watercolors incorporate pieces of topographical maps. These she renders in layered washes that fuse the atmospherics of Asian landscape painting with forms that bring to mind Native American petroglyphs. While in one drawing she incorporates a literal representation of a map – as a series of concentric lines surrounding numbers that denote the elevation of an actual place – her best use of these forms comes when she employs them abstractly, in shapes that suggest birds, animals and rivers, either viewed directly, as if on a wall, or from the sky. 
Door
 
“Presently,” the strongest of the nine pieces on view at Axis, looks like a sun-faded charcoal drawing of an African textile – possibly a mud cloth overlaid with glyphs. It has the gauzy allure of a looted archeological treasure. Equally evocative is “Door,” a picture made from an aerial perspective containing map-derived images that recall land patterns of the sort typically attributed to aliens. The only weakness is that several drawings in the series are under-worked, and in these, Nakashima substitutes text for ideas that might be better expressed visually.
Red Windows 1
 By contrast, text does most of the heavy lifting in Messages Out of Occupation,” a conceptually fraught project whose activist agenda echoes a 2007 exhibit Nakashima mounted in this same space. Here, 16 Palestinian artists living in the occupied West Bank were given a simple assignment: say something about yourself. They do so in 39 drawings on 5” x 7” cards, each of which is mounted on a wire cage and accompanied by a short message. The drawings, for the most part, seem child-like; but the messages behind them, which are scrawled on the wall and sometimes awkwardly translated, are unequivocally adult-like. They express fear, rage, hope, faith, frustration and most of all, a longing for peace.
 
Unlike Nakashima’s watercolors, which are all about wide-open spaces, the Palestinians’ voices are about confinement, and the cage through which we view their remarks is an apt metaphor for their condition – and for the freedoms that exist outside of it.
 
–David M. Roth
 
Janis Nakashima: "New Paintings" and "Messages Out of Occupation runs through May 31 at Axis Gallery
 

 

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