Based on a lifetime of sky gazing, Heavenly Bodies is autobiographical in nature. The paintings are depictions of the skies above very specific (to the minute and latitudinal/longitudinal point) times and places in Risha Rox’s life. These skyscapes illustrate the moments which appear in her tales and exist within the psychic landscape from which she pulls visually, time and time again.
The instances recounted are largely mundane, everyday moments but the firmament as the topdrop, the setting beneath which these moments are mounted, is ever fascinating and spectacular. The sky above is the gateway to the infinite possibilities of forever on a macrocosmic level. On the microcosmic level, our own bodies are the portal inward to infinity. It is our own fundamental nature we see reflected when we cast our eyes heavenward, both literally and metaphorically. Sky gazing is therefore an exercise in self encounter.
Major themes addressed in this work are:
the fleeting nature of time, space and flesh. This work is fundamentally about deaths, both small and great. The death of a moment. The death of a loved one or a stranger. All leading to the inevitability of our own deaths. Mirroring the fleshly life, my practice brings up quandaries of temporality/the finite/the fleeting. Like layers of reality and skin, each painting was eventually peeled off and discarded, recycled or washed away. Photography, the visual capturing, the preservation of moments, is one way of grappling with the reality and finality of death. Larger than life photographic prints indicate the looming immensity of the firmament and also of that which lies beyond life.
the journeys that have taken place within the time and space known as the African Diaspora. My tales are deeply informed by my heritage as both a multigenerational Black Los Angelina and a first generation Jamaican-American. Woven into my work are childhood and adolescent adventures in the great Marian shrine known as Los Angeles, and twilight animal slaughters followed by nighttime prayers in Ontario. There is magic, mayhem and death as I approach adulthood in Berkeley and Oakland. Also, velvet black nights and matrilineal meridian lines in mystic Jamaica and misty London, where thicker than fog blood ties have summoned me each decade of my life. The development of my practice was largely centered within the black, fertile loam of the Brooklyn, NY arts community, where I toyed with adulthood. And now, myself a mother, I find myself back in my own personal motherland, she of the sparkling sidewalks and smog showy sunsets, Los Angeles, CA. My personal movements and those of my family, join and reflect the larger pattern of Diasporic journeys.
an ancient and contemporary preoccupation with the heavens above. In creating this work, I was deeply inspired by African Cosmos: Stellar Arts, a fascinating exhibition that explored how the age-old legacy of African cultural astronomy intersects with both traditional and contemporary African artistic production. According to the exhibition statement, “For millennia, Africans have gazed upon the celestial firmament, made sense of the heavenly bodies above them…” In this way, I consider this body of work to join an ancient tradition, iterated through a Diasporic gaze. Heavenly Bodies is also informed by Sun-Ra’s 1971 University of California, Berkeley course, The Black Man in the Cosmos and his film, Space is the Place, made in 1972, in which he shares the concept of “the Alter-Destiny.” The alter-destiny is a speculative concept in which the Black person of the New World becomes the “living myth,” crafting an alternative future which embraces, engulfs and transcends the boundaries of the Diaspora, of past and future, using art and music as vessels to bear us into the Cosmos, our true home.
Heavenly Bodies refers to the bodies on which I have painted, the ways our movements and interactions with each other move the story of the world forward. It also refers to the various bodies we can see in the sky above, the gravitational forces and orbits of which push and pull us along, in a larger arc of story over which we have little control.
About Risha Rox
Risha Rox is an interdisciplinary artist working in body art, storytelling, installation and sculpture – a practice which she refers to as Corporealism. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 2003 with a major in African Diaspora Studies, she began to develop her artistic practice in the rich black loam of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY. Risha is a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts program at Goddard College.
Risha is the current Artist-in-Residence of Chashama, Squarespace and See Me. She will be in residence at the Woman’s Studio Workshop in Upstate New York this fall. Risha’s work is concerned with reimagining art as a conduit for community action and engagement. To this end, she has commenced a tour in support of Black Lives, during which she has enacted live art performances in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago and New York City. She presented a talk in pursuit of a Black Feminine Archive at the Archives Matter Conference at Goldsmith’s College in London in 2016. That year she was also awarded an art and social justice fellowship in Lecce, Italy by the Musagetes Foundation. Risha also works as a makeup artist in film and television. Most recently, she acted as HMU Department Head on Suicide by Sunlight by director Nikyatu Jusu (a 2018 project funded by the production grant THROUGH HER LENS sponsored by the Tribeca Film Institute and Chanel) and Random Acts of Flyness (a new variety show exploring the zeitgeist by director Terence Nance, airing August 3rd on HBO). Seeking to exalt the base, temporal or ordinary and redefine commonly held notions regarding the human body (and the Black body in particular) by inserting the largely missing Feminine Gaze, Risha’s practice is autoethnographical in nature.
Heavenly Bodies is dedicated to Tameko Shambrey (01/30/1979 – 01/30/1999)