We’re Thankful for Derek Fordjour’s UPPER ROOM
I had the privilege of viewing Derek Fordjour’s installation work UPPER ROOM earlier this month. If you have not had the chance to go, I suggest you run over there this holiday weekend. This could be the best alternative to a Black Friday fight for markdowns on already marked up items.
With UPPER ROOM Fordjour has done something that too many selling artists do not do; he has taken a risk. This installation invokes a sacred space inspired by the third floor prayer room of the Memphis home that his Ghanaian immigrant mother used to pray for her family in. As a circus/church revival tent complete with dim lighting, dying flowers, liquor bottles, fresh dirt that sinks under one’s feet, and the chatter of an NYPD police scanner the UPPER ROOM is at once personal story telling and mystical sensory excitement. What makes this a risk? You cannot buy it. It is so site specific that you cannot recreate it. It speaks directly to Black gospel heritage (The title eludes to the song “In The Upper Room,” which is most famously sung by Mahalia Jackson), which will alienate some secular NY viewers. It’s more personal than all of Fordjour’s past work, and it is not in the medium Fordjour’s audiences are accustomed to him working in.
Moreover, if you do not know Fordjour’s past work you will miss the punchline of this installation. This in itself is also a risk; a new viewer may not know what they are looking at and thus, appreciate it less than a fan of the work. Almost all elements that are shown in his previous 2D works are now surrounding you completely in the UPPER ROOM. From the idea of the deteriorating celebration to the quilted diamond shaped pieces of fabric covering the short stairs leading into the main area of the exhibition, visitors are existing in a Fordjour painting while standing in the UPPER ROOM. The circus themed setting, that seems to always be where Fordjour’s painted black cheerleaders exist, the aged peeling newspaper, and the adjusted lighting all are present in both Fordjour’s 2D work this 3D work. In the UPPER ROOM literal dirt replaces representational dirt of the paintings. In every sense one has been dropped into a Fordjour painting and for a fan of the work this is what makes it so delightful. Greedily, I can only say that I wanted to see even more traces of this world in the gallery’s reception area. But alas, Fordjour chose to leave the viewer wanting more. Nevertheless, in Robert Blumenthal’s Gallery Fordjour gives us more than ever before to take in as far as the: smell, look, touch and sound of the world he has been creating for years. This treat should not be missed.
UPPER ROOM on view at Robert Blumenthal Gallery,
1045 Madison Avenue; New York, NY, 10075; November 4th – December 25th
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Editor-at-Large, Cultbytes Performance artist, speaker, educator, and writer. My art explores the intricacies of my life; as an individual and as a social being who is: a woman, a Black American woman, a light skin Black American woman, a light skin black American woman from Chicago, blah blah blah. You get the idea. I'm an artist. (period) Conceptual-ish is my "thing." l Instagram l Twitter l Contact l #operationcatsuit #ijustcameheretofindahusband