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Violet Marrow
Ambrose Rhapsody Murray - Shabez Jamal
April 22, 2023 - May 21, 2023

Cereus Art is honored to present Violet Marrow, an exhibition of works created in the past year by Ambrose Rhapsody Murray and Shabez Jamal. Exploring a variety of materials, such as cement, silks, salt rocks and collage, the artists juxtapose images from their own family archives with those from the past and present– self portraiture and archival imagery– to create sculptural photographic objects that collapse temporalities and redefine memory and history as extant and irrevocably intertwined with the present. 

The works presented in Violet Marrow pay reverence to Black matriarchal practices of archiving family photography as a tool against erasure, while breaking past its traditional heteronormative limitations and temporal confinements. Coupling the self portraits and archival images with those in the family album highlights stories invisible in the broader historical narrative, as well as the ancestral records created by Black matriarchs. And yet, as these works reveal, that which is unseen is and has always been an integral part of our personal and collective lineages. For both artists, ultraviolet light serves as a primary method of unveiling that which is sensed and ever present even when invisible on the surface. 


Building on an exploration of archival imagery already core to their creative practice, Murray’s new works express a deeper personal and spiritual connection by intertwining photographs of their familial matriarchs with images of 20th century photographs of Black women and girls. In their fabric works, cyanotypes harness ultraviolet light to transfer the images onto gossamer silks, freeing the images’ figures from their original contexts. Their contemporaneous, sculptural presence spilling into our shared three dimensional space emphasizes collective vestiges of white supremacy on Black femmes as ever present. Murray hangs, layers, and drapes these compositions, on the wall and over supportive structures, creating a sense of ethereal grace and fluidity. Juxtaposed against salt rock sculptures revealing fragmented femme figures, Murray constructs a collaborative environment for healing, dissolving the temporal and spatial distinctions between the historical and the personal as well as the viewer and object. 

In a process he calls ‘queering’ the family archive, Jamal weaves his self portraiture practice with images sourced from his grandmothers’ family photo albums to create collages and photographic objects that insert his own queer existence into his documented ancestral history. Crucial to the work are markings that denote passage of time, such as fraying edges and discoloration that comes from years of ultraviolet light exposure. Highlighting the materiality and entropy of the photograph and his sculptural materials, Jamal determinantly interlaces the past with the present to chronologically collapse narratives and recontextualize histories as concurrent. Though not present in his grandmothers’ records, Jamal asserts how queer narratives have always existed within this archive. 

The movement of an image/sculpture emerging can be additive or reductive; so too is the action of remembering. In the process of discovery, new life, creation, comes forward. The force of ultraviolet, that which feeds our world, here acts as an evocation of those who came before us– bringing into light that which is omnipresent and always at work, even when its contours remain invisible. 

Ambrose Rhapsody Murray is a self-taught artist with roots in Florida and Asheville, NC. Through sewing, painting, material experimentation, film and collaborative projects, they create stories to investigate our relationships to the colonial undercurrents of our lives, the charged symbology of black feminine bodies, and the ephemeral and layered qualities of memory and remembering. Ambrose received their Bachelor’s in Black Studies from Yale University and briefly studied art at Central Saint Martins in London. Their work lives in the permanent collection of The Studio Museum in Harlem, and has exhibited in galleries and museums across the US and abroad. 

Donny Bradfield (b. 1992, St. Louis) better known as Shabez Jamal, is an interdisciplinary artist based in New Orleans, LA. His work, rooted in still portraiture, experimental video, and performance, interrogates physical, political, and social-economical space by using queerness, not as a means of speaking about sexuality, but as a catalyst to challenge varying power relations. Often turning the lens on himself, Jamal utilizes self-portraiture as a means of radically redefining the parameters of racial and sexual identity. Jamal received his BIS from the University of Missouri - St. Louis in 2019 and received his MFA from Tulane University in the spring of 2022 where he was also awarded a Mellon Community-Engaged Research Fellowship. In 2020 Jamal was also an inaugural member of Harvard Universities Commonwealth: In the city Fellowship.

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