I had the great privilege to attend Lavar Munroe’s exhibition, “Zoo at the Edge of the World: A Continuum of the Exotic” at Art League Houston and was truly blown away. Munroe was skyped in at Art League Houston where he shared the inspiration behind his pieces, the purpose behind his work, his unique process and how he plans on evolving the series.
The Bahamian artist shared how the nineteenth century phenomenon of “The Human Zoo” has been the root of today’s societal issues around racism and intolerance. It is this
that has inspired his mixed media creations.
“I simultaneously reference the systematic representation of the human difference that occured during the phenomena of ‘the human zoo’…The work introduces an alternate history that readdresses the then popular craze for monstrosity through displays and commercialisation of human difference in order to justify superiority of Western exhibitors during the Colonial era.” (Lavar Munroe)
His process in manipulating freak show advertisements, and ethnologic illustrations generate a conversation about what it is we find exotic, abnormal and fascinating. His pieces reflect deconstruction, cutting, tearing stitching and binding creating rich texture and layers that represent the cruelty and exploitation faced by those misjudged in society.
Munroe states that writing and research is a major part of his process. In his sketchbook full of writing, he lays out the foundation and contextualises his work. This “private practice” as he calls it, is less creative writing and more centred around hard research.
While I sat there intrigued by his process, and captivated by his work, it is when he began to discuss his latest project where I grew even more admiration for him.
Lavar had spent the last few months in the Bahamas and it was a trip to a strip club where he discovered the illegal importing of Jamaican women and met a woman who was being trafficked. The upcoming work we can expect from Munroe is an evolution of this series based on the dialogue he started with this trafficked woman, who came to Jamaica innocently intending to be working at a bar, unknowingly trafficked for the sex trade. This work will combine the objectivity of sex work with the acrobatics and entertainment that feeds into “The Human Zoo.” With the human trafficking cause close to my heart, I greatly look forward to his new work, and the awareness and dialogue it will inevitably generate.
The exhibition currently resides at Art League Houston and ends today, September 12.