FOREVER MY LADY: A Solo Exhibition of New Works by Tomashi Jackson

Installation view of FOREVER MY LADY at Night Gallery, 2020

During her residency with ARCAthens last Fall, Visual Art Fellow Tomashi Jackson actively sought out new perspectives on democracy. In her latest exhibition, FOREVER MY LADY, this question of democracy was woven and posed through strategic use of color, iconic imagery, and ephemeral materials.

In Tomashi’s words:
“This work…places the myths of American democracy in visual collision with its perverted reality (suppression of Black voters and the crack explosion of the eighties). Something of an excavation of origin for the idea of Democracy and the fact of what we have actually experienced. After walking through ancient ruins and seeing marks of humanity surviving and mourning I thought of the impact on a people whose humanity has been consistently compromised, debated, and undermined. What mania must naturally arise when our behavioral links to all other people and civilizations of the world, knowable by respect for cultural antiquity, has been severed and we have been left othered like a side show? What is the impact of denied public recognition of crimes against our humanity sold to us as normal alongside the notion of the supremacy of American democracy and exceptionalism?”

The works that began in Athens were completed at a temporary studio in Los Angeles where the brilliant woodworker and craftsman Rubén Palencia worked with Tomashi to create specialized stretchers for each of the new paintings and the singular fiber sculpture. The idea was inspired by the low sloping awnings that Tomashi was drawn to as she explored the various neighborhoods of  Athens.
"Girls Time (Heartbreak Hotel)," 2020
"Real Talk / White House," 2020
Installation view of FOREVER MY LADY at Night Gallery, 2020

The exhibition also included three video works which feature Tomashi’s alter ego, Tommy Tonight, lip-syncing to R&B songs along with guest performers—some of which are artists that Tomashi had met and recruited in Athens during her residency. 

In “We’re all Gonna Go (Greeks on Sadness, Happiness, and Liberation” Tommy Tonight is seen on an Athens rooftop with Delalis, a character created and performed by Greek artist Eleni Mylonas. Together they are lip-syncing to Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go.”

Sharon Mizota of LA Times writes, “The video brings otherwise odd bedfellows together in a bit of fun, knitting together concerns about democracy, civil rights and gender through the lens of pop culture….[It] feels frankly hopeful and inclusive.”

Tomashi Jackson as Tommy Tonight (left) and Eleni Mylonas as Delalis (right) in “We’re All Gonna Go (Greeks on Sadness, Happiness, and Liberation),” 2019. Single channel video with sound.

FOREVER MY LADY was Tomashi’s first exhibition at Night Gallery as well as her first solo exhibition in her hometown of Los Angeles. 

All images courtesy of Night Gallery. 


Upon returning to the East Coast to begin working toward a solo exhibition at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, The Parrish Museum on Long Island, new paintings that further explore visualizing narratives of attempts at securing democracy and human rights in the United States for a coming group show at the Wexner Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and preparing to participate in the coming Athens Biennial. I worked with my new team of Harvard University graduate and PhD research assistants to collect archival images and documents focused on the history of school desegregation in the United States with emphasis on the Greater Boston Area. Just as our work began to bare fruit, news of the university’s decision to evacuate in response to the COVID-19 the campus forced us to postpone the exhibition scheduled to open in mid April. 
After meeting with my extraordinary RA’s and supportive administrators at the Radcliffe Institute, we decided to move forward with our research and focus our efforts on creating a publication and with it a strategy for sharing the work as learning materials via online platforms.  The goal of our pivot in response to the social restrictions imposed upon the public to stop the spread of the virus has been for the Project to be of service.  Since then we have facilitated video conference interviews with attorneys, historians, advocates, and data researchers discussing the history and legacy of the landmark Brown v Board of Education cases of 1954 and 1955 as well as subsequent legal decisions focused on implementing the Supreme Court mandate to integrate public education.  The discussants are people who would have been panelists for a series of teach-ins for our public programming. Now we are building a beautiful archive of video, edited text transcripts, drawings, and original poetry that will be translated into age specific learning materials to share. As out methodology has grown in the last three weeks during this time of global tragedy and immense grief, the transformed project has brought me joy and discovery that feels like working in the studio, where I haven’t been in months due to the impact of the crisis in New York City.  
I think of Athens often…. Greek-American artist Eleni Mylonas has told me that times of national crisis can bring people together. I am grateful that from my vantage point I am fortunate enough to see that part in action in my own work and the work of others, even in isolation.