Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight draws inspiration from the technique of camouflage, used by animals to escape perception. In nature, detailed markings enable animals to appear as either predators or alternatively blend into their surroundings. This technique has been adapted by military contexts and, in turn, become a loaded symbol. In the works-on-paper exhibition Hiding in Plain Sight, five artists use the technique of camouflage to obscure a message. They co-opt diverse languages in order to share subversive information. Content is hidden in the banal, exploring how deeper investment can lead to greater understanding. Ranging from the use of language to ornamental patterning, the artists Carlos Amorales, Faiza Butt, Parastou Forouhar, Tsang Kinwah, and K. Yoland each ask the viewer to take a second look at their quotidian surroundings.

Over the past few years Carlos Amorales and collaborator Edgar Alejandro Hernandez have penned spurious news stories. Under a moniker, and presenting themselves as a reputable news source, Amorales and Hernandez have been able to get these articles printed in a popular Mexican newspaper. Adopting a highly didactic voice and publication’s style of writing and structure, they have managed to get seven articles published. These stories focus on a deep exploration of Chilean literature and politics and even make claims of Amorales’s ability to be in two locations at once. The work, titled El Buró Fantasma, functions to question the veracity of accepted, reputable sources.

Artist Tsang Kin-Wah also uses language, but to a very different end, merging text with decorative patterning reminiscent of English textile designer William Morris. Tsang hides messages within his designs. Prevalent Internet vulgarities are interlaced with mundane descriptors in both English and Chinese to form elaborate patterns. The work appears as if chat room banter has reorganized itself into lush floral designs. Often presented as wallpaper that envelops entire rooms, these works highlight how as a public we are engulfed by vitriol from anonymous sources.   

Parastou Forouhar similarly employs elaborate patterning, using it to hide violent acts. In Red Is My Name, Green Is My Name II, the activist/artist responds to the social and political situations in her home country of Iran. Obscured in these works, anonymous figures interlock and are, at times, bound. The patterns Forouhar adopts are taken from Iranian fabric used in Shiite mourning rituals on the day of Ashura. The colors themselves are taken from the national flag of Iran. The artist is addressing the systematic social and political oppression of the people of Iran—unearthing corruption and violence permeating the current regime.

Faiza Butt superimposes the eye-like patterns found on butterflies and months onto to the faces of three men who each present different versions of masculinity. These individuals—two from her trendy neighborhood in London and one from Afghanistan—have ambiguous origin, highlighting the relationship between aesthetics, prejudice, and identity. The source image for the Afghani man is pulled from the Internet. The image exemplifies the representation of Middle Eastern masculinity in the media. In contrast, the second image is of a young man living in London who cross-dresses at night and subverts his gender presentation. The third man, also living in London, has adopted the current popular hyper-masculine fashion of growing a beard. All three subjects directly confront the viewer. Butt is interested in how individuals present themselves and how they are resultantly perceived. The works are rendered in Butt’s signature style, inspired by the Mughal miniaturist practice and reminiscent of pointillism.

In her body of work Invisible Angels, K. Yoland addresses the destruction of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, London. Between 2011 and 2014 the large housing estate, which was home to more than 3,000 individuals, was demolished to make way for luxury housing. In Yoland’s photographic series young men are attired in materials such as cling film and shopping bags, at times effectively merging with their surroundings. They are stand-ins for the residents of the estate, overlooked and discarded. Yoland is drawing from the images perpetuated by UK press where groups of men standing on urban streets were presented as threatening gangs. These photographs were taken after the majority of the residents of Heygate Estate had been evicted. The housing project continues to be the subject to controversy.

Hiding in Plain Sight addresses global concerns surrounding the relationship power structures and visibility. While all projects are geospecific in their origin, they resonate internationally as they engage with issues of political violence, gentrification, and prejudice. The artists employ structures that function much like a Trojan horse. Be it a newspaper article, wallpaper patterning, or street photography, the works all highlight systemic social issues in the package of something both familiar and enticing.

-Justine Ludwig