LOS ANGELES WEEKLY
ART PICK OF THE WEEK / by Art Critic PETER FRANK
EXCERPT: “New Orleans based-artist Dawn DeDeaux suggest that the expected source of the ‘trouble’ is itself troubled, yet manifests its own tragic nobility. The focus of her darkly dramatic Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths is the young African-American male. She populates the corridors of her catacomb-like - or jail-like - installa- tion with gilded, over life-size photographs of black youths, former or current gang-bangers and/or prisoners who here assume the styl- ized attitudes of ancient deities and modern ‘stars’. Ensconced in certain cul-de-sacs are other beautiful and menacing icons of the vio- lent life these doomed adolescents have led; and, behind false cell doors, various videos document that life. The media-intensive, ‘Sensurround’ Installation bombards the visitor with Impression and Information, all designed to de-heroicize urban warfare, including the prison lire visited (often unjustly) on survivors, and to re-validate the warriors/victims. DeDeaux's anti-funhouse Soul Shadows may be heavy going, but it is not blame-slinging “PC” agitprop: It conveys not anger, but empathy, engagement and hope.”
ART SPACE MAGAZINE
"DEDEAUX'S SOUL SHADOWS & WARRIOR MYTHS
Cover Story By JOE LEWIS / May 1993
EXCERPT“...The trouble with a lot of politically motivated art is a failure of nerve. Artist who produce work that they know is not favored by our established regime are not necessarily taking risks, since they can forecast the results. Truly taking a risk means not knowing what's going to happen in the end. It's about placing yourself in extremes and working with no predetermined agenda...
“Dawn DeDeaux's multi-media installation, Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths, is a pioneering work of this kind. It grew out of a risk-taking public project and the results open up new avenues of thought about pressing social issues...
“Once through the main gates (DeDeaux acknowledges a debt to Rodin's Gates of Hell) you enter the long ‘Hall of Judgment’: A rock- ing environmental soundtrack plays us like a drum speaking in tongues - made of multiple overlays of a gospel choir mixed with rap music composed by juvenile offenders, which in turn blends with the voices from continuous video presentations in the other ten rooms of her house. The hallway has been perspectively altered, narrowing dramatically as you look down it... and lit as if you were looking into an oven with the bottom flame broiler on. The edges where the floor meets the walls are scarlet hot, and a fluorescent seepage creates an illusion of floatation. You think twice about stopping but are engaged by distorted silhouette images of others who have lingered too long. Seized, frozen in time, and stacked two-up as if they were in holding cells, these ‘soul shadows’ are 4' x 5' enlargements made from still frames that DeDeaux transferred from a rap video she produced with juvenile inmates. These Dantesque images line the hall, not passing judgment so much as seeking a way out, their vapor like movements broken only occasionally by surveillance monitors....
“At the end of this gauntlet...is the antechamber - ‘Tomb of the Urban Warrior’ - and its association with spiritual and historic monuments is intended as a reference to the extreme societal conditions that offer up death games as a heroic option to today’s youth. Metallic gold is used extensively in the imagery and architecture of the antechamber. DeDeaux points out that the 20th century urban youth's hunger for gold - whether in the form of rings, chains, medallions, earrings or even teeth - is to be seen within historical continuum that stretches from Tutankhamen's tomb to today's corporate Rolex watches. It is part of a search for symbols of empowerment, a desire shared by people throughout history. In our inner cities, where a non-inclusive society has provided few viable options, empowerment and self- respect are increasingly sought through a mythological lifestyle of crime and violence...
“A life-size gilded photograph of Wayne Hardy, a former gang leader, protects the entrance to the antechamber. He assumes the posture of the Chinese god of fate and chaos Pan-ku. Although Pan-ku tradi- tionally holds a shield inscribed with the yin-yang, DeDeaux replaces that symbol with a shooting target. Hardy as the shield-bearing Urban Warrior is also the target of a violent wave of self-genocide in the inner cities. DeDeaux has been moved by the statistics on the ‘van- ishing black adolescent male’: 87% of last year’s murders (1989) were committed by black males, 21 years or younger; 85% of those mur- dered were black males, 21 years or younger. In recent years, the prison population of black youths has tripled.
“She puts a spin on all of this by placing the target-holding Hardy in the position of a Grand Inquisitor. His image is in constant view from the Hall of Judgment. It is Hardy who judges you as you walk toward the Tomb of the Urban Warrior. The tomb depicts his mythological transformation from gang leader / war god into "selected spiritual fig- ures" - Jesus Christ, John Wayne, Malcolm X - in a series of enlarged gilded photographs. The direction this imagery is moving is not toward glorification, but humanization. It speaks to the prevailing notion that these men are write-offs....It is through the evolving por- traits of Wayne Hardy that DeDeaux reveals her true belief - that with- in each of us there is the potential for transformation.
“One of the things that Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths shows in great detail is how much everybody yearns for the same things out of life: the opportunity to achieve individual identity and ascend to one's own mental, physical and spiritual potential, and the right to a safe haven for oneself and one's family. There is no way to evaluate the effect this project has had on the participants, or the effect it will have on those who view it. However George Bernard Shaw once remarked that he who confuses political liberty with freedom and political equality with similarity has never thought for five minutes about either. DeDeaux has provided us with a chance to learn and to expe- rience and to give these issues much more than five minutes of our time. Ignorance of these issues is not necessarily bliss, while self knowledge is definitely a key to ascension...”
"Montage: The Ghost in the Machine" By Haus Staartjes
Spring 1994 Issue / EXCERPT:
"Dawn DeDeaux's Urban Warriors was one of the most moving and jarring shows at Montage, and an admirable revelation of the courage of this female artist. The work presented autobiographical confes- sions of African-American, New Orleans criminals...
In one room, an elderly white couple viewed a streetside shooting scene while seated in two living room chairs - not much different from being at home. This however, was a half hour of excruciating detail of a dying victim, with his family and a crowd gathered around him. DeDeaux uses the viewer's voyeuristic interest in gang violence as a double irony..."