In Joseph Buckley’s first UK solo exhibition at The Tetley, a vinyl tableaux garland, described by the artist as a ‘conga line of betrayal’, casts a bleak shadow over the space. In ‘Brotherhood Tapestry’ (2017), images of five black men that encircle the room, each man brandishing a pair of scissors on the next figure, are made whimsical in part by the weapon’s plastic casing. The two new commissions for the exhibition, ‘Psychic Armour for Black Northerners’ (2017) and ‘Brotherhood Tapestry’ (2017), share an exploration of the situation of being a black man in Leeds and the diaspora in the United States. In ‘Psychic Armour for Black Northerners’, an impenetrable Brutalist concrete wall towers seven feet tall and is personified with cloned cast helmets. Yet this fraternal structure has the only protection of flimsy rain ponchos – the kind you find in a theme park.
Brotherhood Tapestry traverses a multitude of references, from European medieval armour and West African masks, to science fiction and dystopian narratives. Other influences, such as the scale model aeroplane Airfix or the table top game Warhammer, are connected by the similar material qualities seen in Buckley’s work. For example, ‘The Tsar says, one hundred years ago today, “1917 must surely be better”’ (2017) is an ironic light box with ‘2016’ lit in Warhammer typography. By drawing a parallel between two years, a century apart and both rife with unfortunate events, Buckley makes the arduous present somehow intimate and sufferable. The vast medley of influences are far from cacophonic, but harmoniously fused.
Glance up in The Tetley atrium and you are met with the mocking glare of ‘Egge69’ (2017), a classical relief in the form of an omnipresent gargoyle that appears to jeer at us mere mortals. Themes of masquerade and armour thread through both Buckley’s Brotherhood Tapestry and the 50 Years of Leeds West Indian Carnival exhibition, that run alongside one another. Nothing could triumph above the Atrium’s majestic Sun Goddess costume on the faceless mannequin and yet the placing of ‘Egge69’ is wonderfully playful. Buckley’s ominous presence glares down like a wicked moon; successfully uniting the face and the faceless. As such, an extended dialogue is created between the two exhibitions. Considered and refined, this exhibition transforms the smaller gallery spaces into a state of limbo for the viewer – mixed with notions of past, present and near future – through which we question our own standing within Buckley’s kingdom.
Brotherhood Tapestry, The Tetley, Leeds, 12 August 2017 – 29 October 2017.
Georgia Taylor Aguilar is an Artist based in Leeds.