Honoring the “Unpeople” in Issa Randal’s Dramatic Moment

Raw Power at the Dayton Visual Arts Center

By Jud Yalkut

The art of Dayton’s Issa Randall presents a Dramatic Moment as the raw power of street art that confronts the subtleties of the gallery space. Previous contemporary corollaries exist with the deconstructed and reassembled graffiti billboards referenced in the work of Mark Bradshaw, but in his recent work Randall defuses racial and cultural tensions into photomontage juxtapositions which mimic moralistic endeavors, and in other pieces literally burns in starkly iconic figures of unidentified victims of society’s brutality.

Randall’s exhibition at the Dayton Visual Arts Center, running through February 24, is part of the annual collaboration with Sinclair Community College and the Ebonia Gallery for the 19th “REACH (Realizing Ethic Awareness and Cultural Heritage) Across Dayton” conference, which this year features guest artists, a community art project of collaborative relief prints organized by Willis “Bing” Davis, and a studies conference on the theme of “In the Spirit of Developing Character” at Sinclair.

Randall received his B.A. in Communications from the University of Dayton and his M.A. in Photography from the University of Arts, London, UK. While there, he encountered Peter Ainsworth, an artist and Lecturer in Photography at Nottingham Trent University, who penned the guest essay for Randall’s DVAC exhibition. Ainsworth cites the “direct ability of photomontage to express a biting exposé of modern life” and references the sharply satiric work of Dada artists like Raul Hausmann, Hannah Hoch, and John Heartfelt. Randall himself absorbs the Dadaistic ideas of anti-art in his means of destroying the images scavenged from society as a form of “cultural cannibalism or cultural recycling.”

The unknown heroes of Randall’s imagery are “the passive victims of oppression,” now openly uprising around the world, or those proposed by revolutionary philosopher Noam Chomsky as “Unpeople,” rejected by society and subjected to unspeakable violations. Randall bemoans the constant honoring of “the captains of industry and the victors of war” and the little time spent “honoring the struggles of the victims.”

These “Unpeople” are delineated in roughly burnt outlines on layers and layers of reconstituted newspapers amassed by coats of the very wheat paste used by street artists or propagandists. These make a “tablet” which Randall then sets on fire to form the chaotic background, out of which he scrapes ashes to form figures, which in turn become the multi-paneled hanged “Unidentified (Male),” or the bent and hooded “Unidentified (Detainee)” and the bound and hung “Unidentified (Woman),” all 2011.

Ainsworth points out that “the torn newspaper ultimately renders meaningless any message in the original text as the actions the artist depicts float within a sea of disjointed words.” The gross assimilation of cliché and persuasion that characterizes the output of both the self-aggrandizing political rhetoric and the boisterous advertising world are subsumed into the texture of the main event, which is the recognition of injustice. “This action,” Ainsworth adds, “has an uncomfortable parallel in relation to images depicting people lying dead on the streets of an unnamed space: Afghanistan, Syria or Dayton, Ohio.”

Randall is an active artist of protest, like Mexican muralists Sequieros or Orozco, echoing the prolific skeletons of Posada who inherit all walks of human life, and the immortalized atrocities, the oppression, torture and execution of prisoners in Goya’s “Disasters of War” etchings, as Ainsworth references. The four suspended dark figures of “Unidentified (Males)” are universally the “Strange Fruit” of lynching, the vanquished and the oppressed opposition, those considered dispensable to the success of the ruling forces.

Photographic techniques are employed in the elements comprising the wall-bending compositions which Randall self-applies as site-specific to the gallery walls. The earth-moving apparatus with its gigantic claw arm plows through the detritus of an industrial world in which hidden figures are concealed for dear life in “Progress” (2010) (from an edition of six varied compilations of photocopies). Wrapping one large corner is an amalgam of two large photocopy compilations, one entitled “Don’t Burn the Trash” (2010) with its fleeing man, upturned dumpster and flaming conflagration, and the other “Threat” (2010) with a Billy club-wielding policeman confronting angry black rioters.

Waves of flame and swirling words of paper pursue a screaming figure in the sweeping “Die of Nothing but a Rage to Live” (2010), as the explosive but meticulously arranged photocopy sheets echo the walls of a metropolis replete with protests and revolutionary postings. Each corner of the large gallery space is involved in this complicity of panoramas of violence. Approaching the front window is the “Nice Arm” (2010) montage of a projectile-tossing orange-T-shirted individual with white masked face and head bandana seemingly threatening the window itself. As Randall has written: “To destroy the image of what is or isn’t art, is to change those notions of what we call art… If we destroy ‘common wisdom’ then we can make anything.”

The Dayton Visual Arts Center is located at 118 N. Jefferson Street in downtown Dayton.

Gallery hours are 11 am-6 pm Tuesday-Saturday. The rear gallery has a fascinating DVAC Member’s Show called “Character Studies” juried by Randall and DVAC director Eva Buttacavoli. There will be a reception Thursday, February 23 at DVAC from 5-7 pm with a gallery talk by Randall at 5:30 pm, followed by a reception at Sinclair’s Triangle Gallery in Building 13 from 7-9 pm. The REACH Studies Conference will be from 8:30 am-4:30 pm at Sinclair’s Ponitz Center in Building 12. Registration and information on the website (www.daytonvisualarts.org) or call (937) 224-3822.

Reach DCP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at JudYalkut@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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NY born, moved to Ohio in 1973 to be Assistant Professor of Art at Wright State University (1973-1977); in NYC taught at School for Visual Arts, York College of the City University, and NYU Continuing Ed; six-time recipient of OAC Individual Artist Fellowings (including one in Criticism); 2005 Ohioana Citation in the Visual Arts in Ohio; 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District.

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