With Strange Fruit, Genevieve Gaignard opens a door to haunting nostalgia of America's relationship to racial violence. This exhibition marks her most extensive and provocative body of work to date, focusing on historical and modern-day acts of lynching. The title, borrowed from Billie Holiday's iconic song, interfaces a range of unapologetic commentary on the American psyche, simulating its inseparable tie to the horrors visited upon black people. This work emerges against history's recent spate of calls for racial justice and draws attention to this country's racial progress—or lack thereof. Strange Fruit asks: Do you only want to see what you believe?
In Strange Fruit, Gaignard returns to figurines as her primary element. In the past, she has removed and discarded the heads of Royal Doulton figurines and replaced them with the heads of mammy housewares. Now, she brings us The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree, a display of life-sized Royal Doulton heads, tenderly placed upon plinths, symbolizing two different things: rediscovery in her practice, and simultaneously what goes unnoticed in our society. With these heads, figures of idealized white beauty evolve into a presentation of implied violence, or trophies. In the work titled Strange Fruit on the Juke Samantha Farrell, Gaignard’s childhood friend, sings a rendition of Strange Fruit that plays from a refurbished vintage jukebox, outfitted to fit within Gaignard's slippery landscape. Pulling on American sentimentality while reinforcing the place of song and protest in this work, this piece is a connector for Gaignard's preoccupations in the show. Gaignard's choices—the wallpaper, the ever-present bric-a-brac, re-tooled gumball machines, and neon—transport us into childhood and by-gone eras, but more importantly, they serve as cues to see the visual rhymes and dissonance in the work and systems of our world.
One seminal work in the exhibition, The American Dream is a Pyramid Scheme, is marching for justice, personified. A mountain of headless salt and pepper shaker mammy figurines opens the cupboard to expose materials of America's past. At all once, Gaignard ushers caricature into confrontation, conjuring the march of millions, "SAY HER NAME," the terracotta soldiers, and a history of resistance that relies on collective voice and body. These vessels patrol every direction, in some sense steering viewers, as the exhibition is meant to do, into an experience of imagining others' realities and challenging how we assign value to objects and people.
In a series of sumptuous new photographs, Off With Their Heads, Gaignard embodies Royal Doulton figurines, posing amongst florals and fruit, against the background of a stately yet profoundly dilapidated mansion. Evoking the Southern Gothic tradition, Gaignard undermines a host of social hierarchies, standards of beauty, superiority, and race, leading us to a dreamlike place where these narratives might appear absurd and fragile. Gaignard inserts herself into the work, mining her own experiences to encourage reflection of the past and provoke a change in thinking. Strange Fruit entices you to images of seeming beauty—intricate portraits, layered installations, and sophisticated collage and assemblage—that serve as props to expand a narrative that still requires a major revision.