For Keioui Keijaun Thomas, the Body Becomes a Vessel

Keioui Keijaun Thomas is a tub taker.

This Brooklyn-based artist takes three baths a day: one in the morning, one noon to reset and one at evening. Usually, she arranges her crystals, flowers and important oils and flips on a podcast, typically true crime.

In late June, at an artist residency in rural Wisconsin, she bathed overlooking a cornfield. Natural springs all through the grounds’ 1,000 acres fed a hose that stuffed an out of doors tub.

Thomas, 31, carves out area and time to maneuver via life with care. That sense of intention defines her solo exhibition at Participant Inc., a nonprofit artwork area on the Lower East Side. She usually creates dwell efficiency and multimedia installations, which she then excursions as evening-length performances.

The title of this present, “Hands Up, Ass Out,” alludes to the protest slogan “hands up, don’t shoot,” which took maintain after the 2014 police taking pictures of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The phrase hangs heavy with submission — however Thomas is fast to invert it.

“There’s relinquishing of power,” she stated. “But then to be ‘ass out’ is like stepping back into your power. Because it’s like this is my space.”

An set up view, “Keioui Keijaun Thomas: Hands Up, Ass Out.”Credit…Daniel Kukla

“Hands Up, Ass Out,” curated by Shehab Isis Awad, will culminate on July 18 with a 24-hour premiere of Thomas’s newest video, “I Looked Up at the Sky and I, Imagined All of the Stars Were My Sisters.” It will probably be proven on the gallery’s web site, Participant After Dark.

The exhibition spans seven years of labor, from 2014 to 2020, a time when the artist introduced her items throughout the globe, from Mexico City to Finland. In 2014, she graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago along with her grasp’s diploma. “The Poetics of Trespassing,” her thesis work — included in the Participant present — landed her an invite to the Spill Festival in London. Robert Pacitti, the founder and then-artistic director of the competition, first noticed her work in Chicago.

“I was instantly struck by the intensity of her presence. In performance mode, she has a tangible agency which fills a room — really, it’s electric,” Pacitti stated in an e-mail. “There is a constant reconfiguring of space, physically, politically, emotionally — there is transformation at play. And all presented with such strength, and yet also a unique grace.”

Step into Participant Inc. and the very first thing that greets you is silence. “The Poetics of Trespassing” comprises three movies, initially carried out as one piece and later filmed for digicam. They play with out audio on three Sony field screens.

“Window View: Covered in Lube.” Loaded symbols like flour spotlight the materiality of our financial system and its dependence on disposable labor.Credit…Daniel Kukla

This early work explores “thingliness,” as Thomas places it — how Black our bodies are used as disposable labor and home service. In one video efficiency, Thomas turns into a broom itself, sweeping flour from the ground, first along with her palms, then along with her mouth, the head of a broom clenched firmly between her tooth.

In “The Poetics,” she stated, “I began thinking about ideas of visibility, hypervisibility, thinking about, what does it mean to trespass versus pass in the world, looking versus seeing people?” Thomas added, “And this idea of Blackness outside of a binary structure or codependent structure.”

Thomas identifies as Black, trans and femme — converging identities which have been lowered, exploited and oppressed all through historical past. “Hands Up, Ass Out” maps the artist’s journey from that tokenism to transcendence.

Loaded symbols like flour and low spotlight the materiality of our financial system and its dependence on disposable labor. Her recurring use of espresso grounds evokes plantations and the trans-Atlantic slave commerce. In one video, Thomas slowly pastes espresso filters onto her naked chest with a paintbrush, her actions dripping with intention.

“The body is central to everything,” Thomas stated of her work. “But it also is, like, the body is meant to be shape-shifting. And, for me, like a new language.”

This concentrate on the physique — from references of bodily labor to a hanging sheer panel of a nude Thomas — intentionally connects the dots between the three core items of the present. The artist attracts from the physicality and athleticism which have performed a distinguished function in her life.

Growing up in Florida, she performed soccer beginning at seven and nearly turned a collegiate monitor runner. But she gravitated towards artwork all through her childhood and ended up at the School of Visual Arts in New York as a substitute.

In the second part of the present, “Distance is Not Separation” makes use of the physique as a vessel for serious about identities — like Thomas’s — which might be typically “boxed in.”

“The body is always adapting to what language needs to be read,” Thomas stated. “In many ways, the body is transcribing that for me.”

“Hair Line Towers: Hang Me Out to Dry,” which references the caretaking work that Black ladies and femmes typically tackle. Credit…Daniel Kukla

In the heart of the ground sits one other sculpture. Twin towers of cinderblocks, baggage of sugar, purple bricks and full bottles of Heineken beer kind a bridge of types. Between them cling strands of Black hair, sporting yellow flower hair clips and purple twin-bead ponytail ties, which exude physicality, too. The work references the function of the hairdresser: Caretaking work — typically undertaken by Black ladies and femmes, Thomas appears to say — cracks open moments of launch from tokenization via its intimacy.

Awad, whom Thomas refers to as a “sister-friend,” shaped a bond via the worth they place on care. Awad’s curatorial company, Executive Care, revolves round belief, slowness and mutual assist. The pair met two years in the past at Nowadays, a bar in Ridgewood, Queens, the place Thomas was working the door. Collaborating felt pure to Awad, who identifies as nonbinary, trans femme.

Thomas “knows exactly how her work functions so well to the point that it gives you — it gave me language to know myself better,” Awad stated. “It gave me language to know, to move around the world and inhabit my body even more authentically.”

By the time Thomas created “My Last American Dollar” — the chronological finish of her work — she felt closest to her personal authenticity. The present traces a path from subjugation to emancipation by the final room.

“It takes you from moments of bleak, stark reality of living in a Black, talented body into taking you to the party,” Awad stated. “The party that we’re hosting for ourselves, because we’re not gonna wait any longer for someone to give a party for us.”

“Middle Passage: After the Party,” which traces a path from subjugation to emancipation.Credit…Daniel Kukla

“My Last American Dollar” opens onto a literal celebration scene. White duct tape marks the haphazard traces of a soccer area — the place the place Thomas felt most free as an athlete. The area is strewn with foil confetti, which Thomas stated is a type of shielding armor for many who accomplished the journey.

The AstroTurf set up, bathed in purple gentle, turns the soccer area into a secure harbor, a manifestation of Thomas feeling snug in her personal pores and skin, as an artist and as a particular person. At the similar time, its video parts reference the Middle Passage — the arduous journey of the artist’s ancestors. In this sense, the area is a place of commune, the place individuals of coloration come collectively to have a good time arrival.

On a display screen in entrance, Thomas stands atop two overturned procuring baskets, each that includes bathroom-style logos of cartoon ladies. She poses, triumphant and free, in entrance of crashing waves.

“I really want people to come into the show with this idea that this is where we are,” Thomas stated. “This space is for you. This space is built for us to come and take up space.”

Keioui Keijaun Thomas: Hands Up, Ass Out

Through July 18 at Participant Inc., 253 E Houston St # 1, Manhattan. participantinc.org.