New Technologies, Haunted by the Ghosts of Modernity
by Michael McCanne for Art in America
October 1, 2019
When European colonizers arrived on The shores of central Africa, some Indigenous people believed they were spirits returning from the dead. In King Leopold’s Ghost (1998), historian Adam Hochschild describes one such encounter. The people living near the mouth of the Congo river “apparently saw the white sailors not as men but as vumbi—ancestral ghosts—since the Kongo people believed that a person’s skin changed to the color of chalk when he passed into the land of the dead.”1
Matthew Angelo Harrison’s sculptures are haunted by the legacy of colonialism and transatlantic slavery even as they explore modern technology and contemporary African American culture. Small wooden figurines, mostly purchased online, are bisected at the waist or neck, or split horizontally and splayed open, before being encased in ash- or violet-colored resin blocks. Other artifacts and animal skeletons are left whole but protrude slightly from their resin tombs, as if still slowly being subsumed. These resin forms are perfectly geometric, machined, futuristic: the technology of today literally engulfs remnants of another place and time.