Work that received some recognition that came out of that period had subject matter that included bones, rocks, hands, fog, and dead animals. Those things were used as symbols to represent metaphysical ideas, from my resume of 1988:
I have sought to discover and reveal the interrelations of life and death in the material and spiritual worlds. [The works] tend, at a superficial glance to convey a harsh reality, but my concerns with the spiritual and symbolic are to raise questions about existence and temporal reality. I believe my images are symbols for another dimension where the greater, more abstract meaning of physical appearances is exposed.And from a revised version written in 1991 but never used:
Shabaka's evolution as an artist arises from the reworking of ideological concepts, both African and European in origin. The photographic amalgam that has evolved seems closely related to surrealism, however, this work is not based on stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism. The objects and relationships between the disparate elements contain a different significance when one is aware that a different meaning can be assigned by its cultural context.
This emblematic work attempts to expose abstract meaning, raise questions about existence and temporal reality, while framing its ambitions in largely private terms.The works from the 70s represented a different imagery for the San Francisco bay area. However, one can never rule out the continued marginalisation of the African American artist (even though the situation has improved). Another and more biting essay could be written based upon those experiences. As a result of the continued negativity I took a 10+ year hiatus even though I still felt my work was valid. After spending 6 months in Italy during 1985, I was reinspired but it took almost one year to get my ideas together. I began working again at the beginning of 1988 and completed some works that I felt were strong. Eventually three were curated in the NEXT GENERATION: SOUTHERN BLACK AESTHETIC exhibition along with a subsequent work done in 1989. This work employed collage and montage techniques. The primary images were taken back from 1970 to 1972 with one exception during a trip to Dominican Republic in 1987. This work and its stylization provided the first critical review of my work by an art historian (Lowery S. Sims, Director, Studio Museum of Harlem), she called it surrealistic. I didn’t think of my work as surrealist in the least. At the beginning of 1988 one of my works was purchased for the permanent collection of the Vero Beach Museum of Art and another work was included in the Boca Museum All Florida Competition in 1989. Both of these used a similar montage technique and surrealistic bend. At this point I had to figure out why my work was being called surrealist when it was not. I studied my work and the origins and meaning of surrealism only to realize I was incorrect. My work “looked exactly” like surrealism. With my personal art history examined and redefined I could move forward. Below are some of the quotations that provided the necessary answers: Commingling life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable, [photography] admirably fulfilled the aims of Surrealism; according to Breton, its ability to integrate these states persuasively made possible a resolution beyond that normally seen in reality. (1) Another way in which these photographs differed from documentary images lay in their conception not as images intended for mass reproduction and a popular audience, but rather as the product of a personal, esoteric, and sometimes eccentric vision. (1) The very notion of the Surrealist object hinged on the reconciliation between representation and perception, a nexus particularly well articulated by photography because of its customary basis in pictorial fact. (This is one reason why surrealistic transpositions of reality were a continuing issue in photography long after they had been abandoned in painting.) (1) The surrealist photographers (Man Ray, Raoul Hausman, Bill Brandt, Brassai, etc.) rarely used photomontage. Their interest was in the seamless unity of the print, with no intrusions of the white page. By preserving the body of the print intact, they could make it read photographically, that is to say, in direct contact with reality... Sometimes they mimicked photomontage by means of combination printing... But more important than anything else is the strategy of doubling. For it is doubling that produces the formal rhythm of spacing ~ the two-step that banishes the unitary condition of the moment, that creates within the moment an experience of fission... The double is the simulacrum, the second, and the representative of the original... Through duplication, it opens the original to the effect of difference, of deferral, of one-thing-after-another, or within another: of multiples burgeoning within the same. (3) I do however feel that within this frame specific influences are important. Frederick Sommer is an artist whose work I have only experienced through reproductions but feel that my work aligned very close to. A portion of my previous artists' statement was written about Sommer’s work.
Although influenced by Weston and Stieglitz, he sought more complex meaning and structure in his work; the unarticulated rather than the literal fact was his interest. Sommer has expressed detachment from the Surrealist movement, regarding it as a spent force. His work shows many correspondences to Surrealism, however, for example the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate items, the attention to the revelations of the unconscious, and the search for hidden meanings and insights. Sommer investigates a kind of hyperreality -- his images are not so much fictive, or distortions of reality, as disturbingly true.
Sommer's photographs are quiet, yet loaded. These are secretive works, more reticent than expressive as Minor White observed, "a superficial glance at his pictures reveals about as much as a locked trunk at its contents." Sommer is concerned with the spiritual, the subjective, the symbolic, yet his photography conveys a harsh reality. His truncated subjects - including animal carcasses and parts - have a nightmarish quality about them. The appeal of the grotesque, the putrescent, has often been observed in his photographs; the effect, however, is to raise questions about existence and temporal reality, and image by image the questions gather strength. (4)The interesting thing about Sommer’s work is that my interests were in this type of work before I knew of him. I also feel that surrealism is a spent force. It is quite possibly the desire to be artist-as-mystic that wants to envelope the work in mystery, making it "a search for hidden meanings and revelations of the unconscious," at least as far as my work in concerned. The largest categories of book on my shelves are on religion, cults, mystery systems, and cultural anthropology. Cycles in life being what they are means that one should never stop reevaluating and reassessing ones life. One needs to continue to grow, develop and refine throughout a full lifetime. To that end let me remember the significant paths I have taken in this journey. Each fork in the road offers a new opportunity whether it be a smooth or bumpy journey. Footnotes: 1) Gauss, Kathleen McCarthy, Surrealism, Symbolism, and the Fictional Photograph, Photography and Arts Interactions Since 1946, Andy Grundberg & Kathleen McCarthy Gauss, eds. (AbbevilIe Press, Publishers, NY, NY, 1987:> pp. 46-47 2) Ibid., p. 63 3) Krauss, Rosalind E., Photographic Conditions of Surrealism, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, (The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1984), p. 109 4) Gauss, Kathleen McCarthy, op, c. it., p. 51 5) Krauss, Rosalind E., Grids, The Originality or the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, (The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1984), p. 9-10 6) Ibid., p. 10 7) Polkinhorn, Harry, Space Craft: Collage Discourse, Collage: Critical views, Hoffman, Katherine, ed., (UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor/London, 1989), p. 23.6 8) Ibid., p. 221 9) Ulfner, Gregory L. , The Object of Post-Criticism, Collage; Critical views, Hoffman, Katherine, ed., (UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor/London, 3.989), p. 385 10) Ibid., p. 385 11) Krauss, Rosalind E., Notes on the Index'. Part 2, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, (The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 3.984), p. 210 12) Ibid., pp. 211-212 13) Ibid., p. 215 14) Ibid., p. 135 15) Ibid., p. 139 16) Bazin, Andre, The Ontology of the Photographic Image, Modern Culture and the Arts, James B. Hall & Barry Ulanov, eds., (McGraw-Hill Book Co., NY, SF, US, 1967, 3.972) pp. 428-429 17) Van Bruggen, Coosje, ed., Bruce Nauman, (Rissoli, NY, 1988) p. 106 Onajídé Shabaka © 1991, 2003