Tess Thackara (Artsy) reviews the work of Dominican-American artist/photographer Elia Alba, who “will present the images at New York’s 8th Floor gallery in September, alongside transcripts from the accompanying The Supper Club series that she hosts for her photo subjects and peers.” These will be published together in a book slated for 2018. [Shown above, Cuban-American artist Juana Valdés as “The Orisha.”]
Magazines have an uncanny habit of repeating certain formulas. Print glossies, for instance, are fond of the multi-page portrait spread that assigns a character, or archetype, to each photographic subject. Picture a glamour shot of a man striding purposefully across the page—dubbed “The Innovator”—or a woman in overalls lost in a moment of focused attention to her materials in an art-strewn studio: “The Creator.”
It’s this aggrandizing tendency, rampant in magazines like Glamour and Vanity Fair, as well as the relative lack of people of color that appear within such pages, that first inspired an ongoing project by the artist Elia Alba called The Supper Club. Beginning in 2012, she set about reimagining fellow artists of color in fantastical images, often with an Afrofuturist aesthetic, or that present them as A-list celebrities. She took Vanity Fair’s “Hollywood Edition” as a model of sorts. For each of her subjects, she dreamed up a tableau and accompanying moniker that characterized their artistic practices.
Hank Willis Thomas, known for his critically incisive, politically charged artwork addressing race in America, becomes “The Professor,” standing amid what appears to be a high school history classroom. Abigail DeVille, whose transporting sculptures and installations suggest temporary structures or otherworldly spaceships assembled from detritus, is “The Pulsar.” Dressed like a psychedelic warrior from the future, she emits rays of green light from her body.
[. . .] The first iteration of the supper series, supported by the non-profit art space Recess, took place in 2012 at a restaurant in Brooklyn. [. . .] What emerged from those early talks, however, came as a surprise to Alba, so much so that she felt compelled to continue organizing more iterations in different venues. The group would visit a restaurant, order takeout at an artist’s apartment, or stage a home-cooked meal at which Alba would serve her signature mini-empanadas. “It was quite eye-opening for me,” she says. “There was a lot of division among folks of color. There was also division among African-Americans and Latinos.”
Alba, who is 55 and has a multimedia art practice, identifies as both Black and Latino. She has roots in the Dominican Republic but culturally feels more aligned with African-American communities (“I prefer to listen to hip-hop than merengue,” she quips). And from the genesis of her supper club, she felt strongly that the dinners should welcome all people of color.
This inclusive emphasis is grounded in Alba’s commitment to finding commonalities between distinct communities, to “equalize those differences,” as she says. “Granted, the history of slavery is terrible here, but if we look at the history of, say, South Asians, they were oppressed by the British for a long, long time. People forget there were slaves in Latin America. And indigenous people [in the Americas] were oppressed. Land was taken away; they were killed by diseases.” [. . .]
See artist’s page at https://www.eliaalba.net/