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A New Print Fundraiser for Baltimore Action Legal Team

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I have witnessed police brutality take the lives of Black women and men—in a seemingly endless loop of death, outrage, and amnesia—without proper retribution for as long as I can remember. This most recent cycle compounded with the COVID-19 crisis: the heartache of isolation, the madness of the person who currently occupies the Oval Office, and the fear of sickness has been wreaking havoc on my mental health, as well as the mental health of my friends. The ability for humanity to suffer tremendous injustice and sometimes irreparable harm and yet still be resilient and continue to breathe and create is something that I’ll never be able to fully comprehend. 

In Baltimore I have seen a lot of people organizing, most recently the peaceful, youth-led protest on Monday, June 1. I’ve noticed others crafting their own forms of effective activism, as well as artists and creatives donating their artwork for various causes that all intend to disrupt the white supremacist system that continues to take the lives of Black people in America. 

One such example is a print fundraiser organized by the artist Monsieur Zohore, in partnership with New Release Gallery and Palo Gallery, both based in New York. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT), an organization that offers legal services to protesters and has been operating a bail fund since April 2015, which they use “in times of crisis” to post as many bails as they can. If you purchase a print from this fundraiser, all of that money helps get someone out of jail. 

Baltimore Action Legal Team

These types of funds are critical because, along with these extrajudicial killings of people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Black people are disproportionately affected by the prison industrial complex, are racially profiled by the police, unjustly arrested and then detained for long periods of time if they are unable to post bail. Most of the people who are in jail have not yet been convicted, and most who are held on bail have only been charged with low-level crimes. Although we can’t immediately fix the injustice of our criminal justice system and how it unfairly imprisons so many Black men and women, a bail fund like BALT’s creates a temporary and helpful bridge that allows people to be able to be released from jail before their trial and go home to their families. 

When deciding on which images to use for this fundraiser, Zohore says he could’ve chosen something fun or frivolous, but he felt it was more important to be honest about what’s happening, to provide viewers with a reflection and reminder. Through performance, installation, and sculpture, Zohore explores queer history and his Ivorian-American heritage often through the lens of humor, economics, art history, and labor. He says the two photographic prints he chose—one shows him crying, the other has his head wrapped in tape—were most apt for these times.

"A Portrait of an Artist in Mourning," 2020 is from the performance "MZ.12 (How Taxing)," 2020. There are fifty prints available for $100 an image through Palo Gallery. 

The first print, A Portrait of an Artist with Caution (2020), produced in collaboration with New Release Gallery and Beverly’s in NYC, was made originally for Material Art Fair in February. It depicts the artist wearing a yellow-and-black mask constructed from duct tape that obscures his eyes. Submerged in a pool and arms outstretched to the viewer, the artist is bound at sunset. The prints, $25 each, are personally autographed as a continuation of his performance MZ. 10, Le Vendu. They can be purchased via private message to the gallery on Instagram.

The second print, “A Portrait of an Artist in Mourning” (2020), is available through Palo Gallery’s website and was made as a part of his MICA MFA thesis performance,” MZ.12 (How Taxing)” (2020). It depicts him seated in an opulent living room, well-dressed, and weeping. There are fifty prints available for $100 each. 

Zohore wanted to offer more than one print at varying prices in order to raise as much money as possible for BALT, making sure those who need the resources can get them. “In turn I get to share these beautiful and tragic works with people who purchase the prints as a reminder and meditation on the tragedy of what we are all living with,” he says.  

Initially he felt helpless after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests, unsure of what real-world skills he could employ to support the cause. But then he realized his work could be a gift. So he reached out to New Release and Palo Gallery, both of which he had previously worked with while living in New York. Zohore says he was impressed by these commercial galleries, and their understanding and willingness to forgo any profit for the fundraiser.  

This fundraiser is an example of the power of action and art: An artist wanted to help, organized their community, and is now raising money for a cause they believe in. While we are all taking pause and evaluating the painful state of the world, we can turn to art to provide solace, hope, inspiration, and in the case of this fundraiser, resources that will directly impact the lives of people who need them the most. 

I reached out to Erin Goldberger, founder of New Release Gallery, and Paul Henkel, co-founder of Palo Gallery, to discuss their support of the fundraiser, their relationship with Zohore, and what a post-COVID art world might look like.

Teri Henderson: How long have you had a relationship with Monsieur Zohore and his work? How did it develop?

EG: I met Monsieur Zohore before he was even 21! We met through mutual friends and clicked right away. Even as a college student he was consistently challenging himself to create interesting work, dialogue, and performance. I believe our relationship is still developing—watching his work change and grow in grad school has been really inspiring. Most recently we got to spend time in Mexico City together, and seeing him develop a performance while we were there was also a highlight of the trip. He can really read a room, and mold to whatever environment he is in to bring out a successful and provocative performance.

PH: I met him four years ago in New York. We used to frequent the same bars and parties. We became fast friends. As both our careers in art began to accelerate, our conversations continued. However, it was not until a couple months ago that we reconnected. We spoke during our isolations, and I learned more about his complex and brilliant practice. I am thrilled to be working on this fundraiser with him, and am equally excited about his upcoming exhibition with Palo Gallery (hopefully) this winter.

Labor, Work, Action group show installation curated by Silke Lindner-Sutti (with works by Anne Libby and Gregory Kalliche) at New Release Gallery

What is the focus of your gallery? 

EG: New Release focuses on artists who work across all mediums, even if the work or installation is a bit trickier or it has no monetary value. We have exhibited a lot of video and technology-based work and have hosted performances and several fashion shows. New Release is an inclusive space that strives to be an advocate for artists of color and to support the larger LGBTQ community. So much about art is biographical, so it is imperative to exhibit works with a variety of stories, politics, and visions that can not only be exhibited, but educational to the viewer.

PH: Our gallery focuses on elevating the work of emerging and mid-career artists. Our goal is to push the artists we work with to new frontiers and conceptual realms so that they may come to define the future of art history.

Our exhibitions frequently break the white-box model that has dominated the artworld for decades. We curate exhibitions with the goal of removing artworks from the white void, and placing them in architectural spaces that work to create a dialog with the art. 

Beyond our public exhibitions we have begun running a small salon space in Tribeca where the visitors feel as if they have stepped into a home rich with art. The experience is meant to be personal, rather than alienating as so many galleries can be.

Installation from Andrea Arrubla’s solo exhibition “Still Absorbing the Good News” at New Release

Is the first fundraiser your gallery has participated in?

EG: In 2017, New Release helped organize a successful benefit with around 40 artists for Puerto Rico relief after Hurricane Maria.

PH: In the past, we have donated profits to natural conservation efforts for Bears Ears National Park, and I have done fundraising work for Children in Crisis and Doctors Without Borders in a collaborative effort with the gallery.

How has COVID-19 affected your gallery operations and sales?

EG: COVID has definitely stalled a few shows we had lined up. Despite having the ability to showcase work in viewing rooms, on the website, on Instagram, etc., it is not the same as people experiencing work in real life. 

We have taken this time to try to do some virtual studio visits, see how artists are doing and dialogue more with them. Sometimes things get so busy when the gallery is open and real life steps in that you don’t have as much time to really spend in the studio with an artist, so this has reminded me that that should always be a primary focus. 

PH: Thankfully, I got very lucky with the timing and we are not currently leasing a ground-floor commercial space. We had an exciting upcoming group exhibition in late April which had to be canceled, and it has been difficult to move those works without people viewing them personally. However, online sales have been consistent enough to support the online Salon, as well as our business operations.

We have been focusing on selling smaller works, works on paper and prints in the interim period as they are sold at a far lower price point. I have also personally ceded my commission so that the artworks can be sold for less, thereby aiding financial support for the artists we work with. I believe affording decisions like this, if possible, is paramount during these times. 

Not only are we in the midst of a pandemic, but the culmination of a 400-year fight for racial equality in America. With this print series, Zohore and I hoped to aid this fight by supporting an organization that fights for and defends the oppressed. I’m incredibly lucky to work alongside an artist like him, whose powerful voice expresses the deep pain and lamentation of the Black community.

What are your hopes and predictions for a post-COVID-19 art world?

PH: It seems increasingly difficult to predict the future of this crisis. While there are trends showing growth in the online market, I believe that a post-COVID art world will be one where people strive for in-person experiences again. That being said, this crisis will not be easy to bounce back from. People have lost their jobs, small galleries are going out of business and artists no longer have a steady source of income. I hope that we can return to an art world that appreciates the fragility of the world we once took for granted, and that we approach with caution and respect.

Purchase “A Portrait of an Artist with Caution” here for $25.
Purchase “A Portrait of an Artist in Mourning” here for $100.
All proceeds go to the Baltimore Action Legal Team

Header Image: "A Portrait of an Artist with Caution", 2020 is from the performance" MZ.10 (Le Vendu)," Prints $25 and available through New Release Gallery

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