Baby, you’re a star. Being a modern star means in part the making of a public image, or in actuality co-creating that image with image-makers and media.
It is this construction of public self or star that artist Modou Dieng engages for his show, Black Star*, at Marylhurst Art Gym with his collages of album covers, LP records themselves, the graphic images of flyers, and neckties loosely decorated with a limited palette of metallic paints. The collages resemble those unofficial urban noticeboards: the plywood walls around construction sites that become layered with music and movie posters as well as flyers and tags.
Together, the collages can be read as self-portraits of a constructed identity pieced together from totemic images of segments American pop culture primarily from the 70s and 80s. Born in 1970 in Senegal, Dieng has said that turning away from legacies of French colonialism meant turning toward explorations of American music.
While the spine of the work is black beauty, power, and music, this is a more complicated story. Yes, here is the Black Power fist. LP’s emerging from their covers look like afros. Here are James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, and Run DMC. But by including images of Blondie and the Beastie Boys, as well as a number of Lichtenstein-esque album covers, Dieng makes it clear that this is both an appreciation for that mashup Mudd Club moment in NY in which cultures collided and a typically ecumenical millennial appreciation of the interconnectedness of various strains of American music. No mistake then, that Dieng’s repeating motif of the crown, is borrowed from Jean-Michel Basquiat whose band, Gray, played at Mudd.
Throughout, Dieng’s painting is graffiti-like, commenting on or obscuring the images of the collage. The painting is Dieng taking ownership of these images (as a graff tag is a way of "owning" a wall), to forge a united self/star from disparate pieces.
And what does it mean that Dieng has taken the appellation "star" for himself rather than waiting for another to bestow it on him? Find the answer as plain as the letters Run-DMC ("We are the Kings of Rock") who like virtually all other MC’s of the era regularly rapped self-definitions as well as statements of their own superiority. Saying makes it so.
Black Star at Marylhurst Art Gym is paired with Io Palmer’s Artstars which will be considered in another review.