Collage as a Strategy of Cultural Collision

LOS ANGELES – Entering Troy Montes-Michie: Rock of Eye, you are greeted by floor-to-ceiling black walls with three small works opposite the exhibition text, and a doorway blocking the remainder of the exhibition. Like most queer spaces, this exterior is a deception — a plain and unassuming facade-turned-gateway to a secret world, one that opens into a workshop of pattern, texture, and color. Supersized figures are seen in the distance, while assembling suiting hangs from the ceiling to kiss the wood flooring marked with the outlines of zoot-suit from a vintage Vogue Pattern.

Installation view of Troy Montes-Michie: Rock of Eye at the California African American Museum (CAAM), Los Angeles, 2022 (photo by Elon Schoenholz)

The California African American Museum (CAAM), describes this exhibition as a departure from the artist’s earlier works that trace the “social history of the zoot-suit,” but the queer-coded symbolism characteristic of Montes-Michie’s work remains a guiding point to understanding the layers within these works. Building on his earlier practice, Montes-Michie broadens his conversation of the queer Black body and the performance of queer intimacy by weaving figurative elements together, allowing the bodies to be seen in relation to one another rather than focusing on any singular figure. This is most obvious in “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” and “El Pasiente” (both 2018), two works stripped of the zig-zag stitches that often tie Montes-Michie’s works together. In “El Pasiente” (The Patient), we see a collection of extremities: a postcard of a parachutist whose shadow creates the image of a gaping hole on the earth’s surface, mirrored by a ringed collar of a t-shirt; and an image of a shooting star with a microscopic “top” pasted over it. It is important to acknowledge the quiet language of queer sex that exists within these works, and the patience it takes to talk about the tops, the bottoms, and the other anatomical landscapes noted in many of the works.

Installation view of Troy Montes-Michie: Rock of Eye at the California African American Museum (CAAM), Los Angeles, 2022 (photo by Elon Schoenholz)

“Out of Sight, Out of Mind” features vintage erotic images with painted-on zoot suiting to create an intimate collage akin to camouflage. This act of shielding desire, of arranging and rearranging the figure to conceal identity and present it anonymously is one that is all too familiar to the queer experience. By painting clothes over these archival nude images, we see them intimately rather than explicitly, stepping away from the fetishized Black male body that had been left on display in the magazines they originated in. The figures are disguised, veiled, holding each other, inviting you into their bedrooms, looking directly at you, now allowed to undress with you rather than for you.

Troy Montes-Michie, “Foreground As Background” (2018), paper, photographs, clothing, acrylic on wood, 36 x 30 x 2 inches (courtesy the artist and Company Gallery, New York)

In the US cultures/ monitoring catalogue, Montes-Michie talks of Mexico border as his “first experience with the language of collage,” describing it as an amalgamation of “two very separate colliding on every level.” Montes-Michie extends this cultural intersectionality, of the border and of his collage, within works like “Piensa en Mi” (2017), originally titled a reference to the 1995 song of the same name by Leandro y Leonardo, written by Augustín Lara in 1935:

En ves de ponerte pense en él / Instead of thinking about him

En ves de que vive llorando por él / Instead of living crying for him

En ves de ponerte pense en él / Instead of thinking about him

En ves de que vive llorando por él / Instead of living crying for him

Piensa en mí, llora por mí / Think of me, Cry for me

Each figure is cut out of the collage, as if Montes-Michie had made this work while listening to Casal’s voice, telling him not to think about the proverbial “him” we have all once known. While Pride month has ended, conversations on queerness continue, and in a time where many social and political conversations are deciding what the future will look like for queer and trans youth, Troy Montes-Michie: Rock of Eye leaves us with a simple message: Think of me, Cry for Me.

Installation view of Troy Montes-Michie: Rock of Eye at the California African American Museum (CAAM), Los Angeles, 2022 (photo by Elon Schoenholz)

Troy Montes-Michie: Rock of Eye continues at the California African American Museum (CAAM) (600 State Drive, Exposition Park, Los Angeles) through September 4. The exhibition was co-organized by the Rivers Institute for Contemporary Art & Thought (Rivers) and California African American Museum (CAAM) , and curated by Andrea Andersson, Rivers Institute Founding Director and Chief Curator, with Jordan Amirkhani, Curator, Rivers Institute, and Taylor Renee Aldridge, Visual Arts Curator, CAAM.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: