Gallery shows

Providence Biennial: In the present, with the past

Isaiah “Prophet” Raines, Untitled, 2022-23, mixed media, 96 x 96 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Lora Amenta Lombardi

Contributed by D. Dominick Lombardi / The 2023 Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art, titled “Curating Commemoration: Poesis/Remedy,” is presented in two related exhibitions in the WaterFire Arts Center, a large, beautifully converted US Rubber Company manufacturing facility originally built in 1929. In keeping with the enterprise’s original mission of infusing high-end curation and presentation with the outsider spirit of the local Providence scene, the exhibition features a rich, wide range of work, from performance, music and design to photography, sculpture and painting. Melaine Ferdinand-King, one of two curators, has focused on art with a contemporary urban feel that suggests the process of creating as contemplated by the Greek concept of poiesis. Joel Rosario Tapia has pursued the theme of remedy, leaning towards indigenous or ancient cultural ideas and practices. The result is an enlightening show of considerable societal scope.

Using a paint roller, house paint, joint compound, a tear-off of a circular mailer, and street debris, Isaiah “Prophet” Raines’ Untitled stages a “tenement in neglect” featuring nine perfectly placed rectangular elements. The most prominent is three-by-three-foot grid containing rolling papers, a single black bandanna, blunt or cigarette ash, and worn wife-beater T-shirts, imparting hard knocks and elusive redemption. Raines presents bits and pieces of life in an unjust system that still acquires magical and memorable qualities.

YSANEL, No Es Facil, 2021, mixed media, 48 x 48 inches. Photo: Courtesy of Lora Amenta Lombardi

YSANEL’s No Es Facil reveals the torment of loneliness conveyed through self-analysis and unbridled expression. Oddly composed, it somehow holds together, perhaps due to the dominance of a cautious yellow that propels a cyclical narrative like that of the 1993 film Groundhog Day. The artist adds the familiar ring-light-phone-camera combination that signifies essential communication capability, especially since the COVID pandemic. Other elements such as birth-control pill packets, spent paint tubes, peels of paint, painted text, and a dried plant surround a lone figure moored between anxiety and desire. In the figure’s faraway look, there is a realization that this can’t be all there is, which offers some hope.

Joshua Baptista, Untitled, 2023, mixed media on paper, 24 ½ x 18 ½ inches. Photo: Courtesy of the author

Joshua Baptista channels a 1950s Beat aesthetic in a series of untitled mixed-media works, hung salon-style. With crude, harsh black lines, especially around the eyes, Baptista brings to mind the type of art you might come across in Juxtapoz magazine, while the colored-pencil scribbles marring the surfaces of the larger portraits incorporates the dual destructive-creative quality of graffiti. Sometimes, he suggests, it takes risks or a bold move to get to where one needs to be. The tight ten-piece installation and the expressive line are resonant of Mission School artist Barry McGee’s work, while Baptista’s small alternative media pieces and eclectic musings on grubby, stained notepad paper exemplify dark humor in contemporary art.  

Lilly E. Manycolors, Balance, 2023, mixed media on canvas, 85 x 61 inches. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Among Tapia’s curatorial selections, Lilly E. Manycolors’ work may track the theme of remedy the most clearly and profoundly. Manycolors is of mixed race – Black and Choctaw combined with Australian – and often wonders, according to her statement, “How can I exist in a good way when I am the product of colonial violence?” Her large-scale paintings accompanying mask-like objects reflect a complex thought process. Paint, fabric, beads, metal, seashells, and the like come together in a ‘first humans’ representation that seems more connected to the earth than any invisible God could be. As much as any artist I have seen, Manycolors lives her art, but it’s more than autobiographical. It is also about what we carry with us from a past lived in a ruinous power struggle.

Manycolors hints at a collective consciousness that processes accumulated wisdom into an understanding of how to live, relate, and love in the present. The exhibition as a whole demonstrates how vividly art can embody that consciousness.

“Curating Commemoration: Poiesis/Remedy,” Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art, WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley Street, Providence, RI. Through August 20, 2023. 

“Curating Commemoration: Poiesis/Remedy,” Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art, curated by Melaine Ferdinand-King and Joel Rosario Tapia. WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley Street, Providence, RI. Through August 20, 2023. 

Artists: AGONZA, Isaiah Aladejobi, Amber Art and Design, Joshua Baptista, Julio E. Berroa, Big Nazo Lab / Erminio Pinque, Kindell Brown, Ani Jacsmile Cassion, Quinn Corey, Umberto Crenca, Justin DeGraide, Joelle ‘Artfulme’ Dejesus, Raphael Serrano Disla, Eastern Medicine Singers/ Daryl Jamieson, Dorian Epps, Fu’una, Jeny ‘Luna’ Hernandez-Watson, Kevin Saye Kehyei, Louie, Hannah Mackie, Rachel A. Maeve, Sidy Maiga, Lilly Manycolors, Rafael Medina, Lennox Orellana, Tyler Palmer, Autumn Perez, Isaiah ‘Prophet’ Raines, Derek Raymond, Archee Rhodes, Shey ‘Ri Acu’ Rivera Rios, Izzy Rodriguez, Savaree ‘Sav’ Hazard-Chaney, Callum Sharkey, Spocka Summa / Anti-Robot Club, stay silent, Savaonnara Sok, Daniel Sweet, Nyree Sylvia + Paige Huggon, Elijah Trice, Rachel Turner, Raymond Two Hawks Watson, Jared Winslow, Margery Fischer Winter, YSANEL

About the author: D.  Dominick Lombardi a visual artist, art writer and curator based in New York state. A recent 45-Year retrospective of his art made stops in Murray, KY; Colorado Springs, CO; and Cortland, NY. 

Related posts:
Artist’s notebook: Sue McNally
Providence report: Leigh Tarentino and Duane Slick


  1. Diane A Lombardi

    Will re-visit the Biennial- having read and now better understand/appreciate these exhibits.

  2. Thank you for the review!

    Melaine Ferdinand-King
    Curator, Poiesis – Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art

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