Part three of the 4-part Workspace ’18 exhibition series, featuring new work by residents of AAI’s LES Studio Program

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is, therefore, an emblem of magnanimity and true courage” while musing on the nation’s first symbol, the rattlesnake. Franklin’s America described here as “an emblem of magnanimity and true courage” was rapidly gaining its independence through war, veiled by the vow to protect its newfound freedom and justice for all. In _5, Onyedika Chuke conceptualizes the role protection—of bodies, of borders, of resources—has played in the development of nations by analyzing allegories of snakes and nationalism in five pieces.

Starting with the architecture of Cuchifritos Gallery, Chuke’s newest body of work manipulates the viewer’s sense of perspective and perception. Each of these pieces distorts, incises, grounds, expands and confines the gallery space, extending it beyond its aesthetic and physical limits. _5 begins with a gateway into globalization in FMA_Untitled_New Curtains, a 10ft x 5ft transparent vinyl butcher curtain embedded with deep blue miniature steel globes from c. 1960. Viewers walking through this sculptural symbol can meditate on how trade has shaped modern notions of commercialization and nationalism. The vinyl in this piece is an homage to traditional markets and the globes signify the new world order initially proposed by Winston Churchill after WWII. FMA_Untitled_U.S Navy Jack 1776-Present is a 6ft x 4ft hand-painted watercolor on taffeta of the First Navy Jack flag, the image of American freedom stemmed from resistance to British colonization in America—taxation without representation, state dissent and desire for democracy. Issues deemed problematic from the start; currently unresolved and further complicated by more recent history. In FMA_Untitled_Labyrinth, Chuke explores how water has been used as a conduit to enhance security and trade. In his work, labyrinths are both anti-navigation symbols and targets. The gentle movement of the water around the found items, inside the stark angles of the resin and packing material, _Labyrinth makes note of the attempt to control nature for the protection of man. FMA_Untitled_Python questions whether or not Franklin’s famous essay on the similarities between this nation and rattlesnakes has continued to be veritable. Displaying a 25ft coiled resin python, perched to keep an eye on visitors, Chuke presents a new allegory for America’s strategy for self-preservation. Finally, FMA_Untitled_Arch is a work created by cutting directly into the wall of the gallery. A reference to the end of the Vietnam era and a gateway into an imperial expansion, it carries the imagery of a cathedral window or a gateway into a void. It is a solid space, void space, and non-space.

“The Forever Museum Archive” (FMA) 2011-present, is a disquieting collection of objects in which Onyedika Chuke analyzes modern-day protests and globalization. Often intrigued by international politics, his analysis of machine weaponry and media are pertinent reminders of the technologically mediated wars that characterize our collective memory. Chuke’s desire is not to tell the viewer what to take away from his research, but to open the minds of viewers by encouraging a discourse on the past, its relation to the present, and what vital parts of history have continued to be overlooked.

Archivist and sculptor Onyedika Chuke is internationally recognized for his disquieting collection of objects, The Forever Museum Archive (2011-present). His politically charged sculptures act as symbolic markers of histories that shape our collective memory of conflict, culture, and politics. Chuke studied at The Cooper Union. He is a current Public Artist in Residence for New York City. His past fellowships include SculptureCenter’s In Practice Fellowship 2016, Socrates Sculpture Park’s Emerging Artist Fellowship 2016-2017, and The Drawing Center’s Open Sessions Fellowship 2016-2018. In 2017 Chuke was a resident at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

Cuchifritos is FREE to the public and handicap accessible. Located inside Essex Street Market at the south end nearest Delancey.

Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space is a program of Artists Alliance Inc., a 501c3 not for profit organization located on the Lower East Side of New York City within the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. Cuchifritos is supported in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. This program is made possible by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. We thank the following for their generous support: Foundation for Contemporary Arts, New York City Economic Development Corporation and individual supporters of Artists Alliance Inc. Special thanks go to our team of dedicated volunteers, without whom this program would not be possible.