Hailing from West Philly, multidisciplinary artist Gianni Lee has long documented the Black experience in America through fashion design, music production and international DJ sets, but as of late, the creative is lending time to thought-provoking gallery showcases.
In 2017, he explored the silencing of marginalized voices in his inaugural solo exhibition, titled "Why Don't You Hear Me?" as Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition's Artist-in-Residence, before drafting an exposé in 2018 on the evolution of systemic oppression for his Los Angeles show, "They Sat Back, They Let It Happen."
Today, Lee welcomes his third independent presentation, "Gianni Lee: Black Heroism & The Wounds They Carry," in another part of the country: Atlanta.
"The frustration of the pandemic pretty much birthed the idea for the show, and it's an exploration of what Black people can do and how they can not only evolve, but also navigate this new social norm," Lee told PAPER. "I felt like it was very enlightening for me, just being able to connect with people down here in Atlanta, especially in a city that has a high Black population, and be able to bring art to this community."
Gianni Lee, "I'll Paint The Sky Red For You," 2020
The showcase is in the city's Gallery at WISH, and its curator, Anna Akpele, has had her eye on Lee's work for quite some time. "I've been following Gianni for about 2 years now," Akpele said in a statement. "This exhibition has been a long time in the making and we're excited to finally share this body of work with the city, being his first solo exhibition in Atlanta."
The exhibition offers an array of chromatic paintings fronting legendary Black historical figures aside sci-fi iconography — a commentary on the Black community's influence in today's modern, connected world. In a clash of traditional painting techniques, each piece serves to juxtapose the legacy of Black people in America with an optimistic outlook on the future, even amid the country's current sociopolitical division.
"This is the first time that I've actually shown works where I've mixed mediums," Lee said. "There's this one painting in particular called I'll Paint The Sky Red For You, and it's a regurgitation of everything that I ever wanted to put on a painting and conceptualize. I decided to do it all in this one painting with pastel, standard oil paint, acrylic and even spray paint. It's interesting how it all blends together and still tells a story. It looks like chaos and madness, but it's actually a little bit calming because you know it makes sense to the artist."
Gianni Lee, "The Fall," 2020
At first glance, you might feel perplexed in search of a concrete meaning behind each painting, but that's okay — your puzzlement is actually Lee's goal. "I hope [the exhibition] confuses people more than anything," he said. "I would rather somebody get confused and want to have a conversation about what the fuck I am trying to do. I want people to be a little bit confused about what they see because that would make them more interested and want to ask more questions."
With the intention of sparking impactful conversation, Lee is preparing to host a meet-and-greet at the Gallery at WISH on Sunday, November 8, from 3-7 PM in celebration of the exhibition's opening.