The undulating forms of the arabesque—as a calligraphic gesture, a decorative motif, and a dance step—underscore Brendan Fernandes’s solo exhibition, “The Inverted Pyramid.” The installation will include four site-responsive elements of sculpture, photography, text and performance.
A Canadian-born, New York-based artist of Kenyan and Indian descent, Fernandes’s practice investigates the formation of cultural identity. Primarily working in dance, performance and installation, Fernandes considers choreographic movement’s relationship to labor, migration, translation, and sexuality.
In this show, the arabesque will be framed around a specific balletic scene: The opening of Act II of La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer), a 19th-century ballet that tells the story of a star-crossed love affair between a High Bramin and a temple dancer. Act II, titled Kingdom of the Shades, commences with an opium dream sequence in which the female corps de ballet perform a repetitive series of arabesque poses. Also known as “the inverted pyramid,” the arabesque involves a strenuous yet graceful extension of the arms and leg while balancing on one leg. Fernandes is interested in the Western Orientalist, gendered appropriation of the arabesque, which originated as an Islamic artistic and decorative trope. The exhibition traces the arabesque’s movement (and performed stillness) across Abrons’ unique gallery space.
Fernandes has conceived a performance that responds to this arabesque scene with Lauren Post, an American Ballet Theatre dancer who will be featured in this spring’s production of La Bayadère. Post will activate the installation during the opening on April 2, with the audience viewing the performance through the glass walls of the galleries.
Additional exhibition elements include a trio of abstract sculptures loosely based on balletic, organic forms, a series of lifesize cutouts responding to the arabesque silhouette, and a research-based installation that will include textual and photographic reproductions.
Representing the serialized movement of “the inverted pyramid” can be seen as a commentary on the operations of labor, both manual and cultural, while the freeze-frame interruption of the dance step considers the ways in which images create naturalized ideals of gender presentation and how stillness might operate as a politically resistant gesture. The shift between the dynamic and static, between the fluidity of motion and its concretization as representation in “The Inverted Pyramid” provokes an investigation of balletic movement as labor. Moreover, Fernandes’s sustained attention to the arabesque gesture critically investigates the migration and appropriation of forms from a proto-modernist context to the present day.