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Powerful and elegant: Galerie Tanja Wagner’s Under the Cover of Darkness

It's your last chance to see Canadian and French artist and anthropologist Kapwani Kiwanga’s "Under the Cover of Darkness" at Galerie Tanja Wagner through Jan 25, a mix of abstraction and collage that sheds light on persisting patterns of oppression.

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Photo by Kapwani Kiwanga. Catch Under the Cover of Darkness through Jan 25 at Mitte’s Galerie Tanja Wagner.

This exhibition of sculpture and printed word by Canadian and French artist and trained anthropologist Kapwani Kiwanga resurfaces a number of little known historical realities that underpinned the lives of African and Indian Americans. In the work “Greenbook (1961)”, lists of addresses printed under the names of American cities are displayed in wooden frames: residences recommended as safe for African American travel­lers in the Negro Motorist Green Book, 1961 edition. The 52 prints are not exact facsimiles. The artist has omitted names, but most chilling is how few addresses there are and the great white expanses of paper in which the tiny addresses swim.

In two sculptures both titled “Glow”, Kiwanga tackles a much more direct document of oppression: America’s “lantern laws” of 1713. Ap­plicable to black and indigenous slaves, the laws insisted they must carry a lantern after dark, unless accompanied by a white person. Their geometric black marble structures each house a single strip of light and hold a heavy formal quality. Their weight, rather than their light, wins out as they signpost laws that while long gone, still echo down through 300 years with cases such as the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.

In a more general comment on power structures and surveil­lance, “Jalousie” is a metal-framed four-panel screen made of smokey reflective glass. With sections of the glass constructed to resemble open shutters, it allows some light through while bouncing reflections in a disorientating play on the other works.

Kiwanga’s pieces here articulate historical source material in an agile mix of both abstraction and collage, both equally powerful and an elegant exercise in storytelling that offers pause for thought.

Under the Cover of Darkness | Galerie Tanja Wagner, Mitte. Through Jan 25.