The show – all presented by Milton Fine Curator of Art, Jessica Beck – takes a tender approach to these issues, which disproportionately affect certain communities close to Shimoyama, a young, queer, Black man. As he puts it, Cry, Baby is all about “self-discovery, self-love, and self-care,” particularly for people who, like him, “don’t feel like they match a certain type of Blackness or masculinity.” Even while he challenges boundaries on gender performance and sexuality, he embraces intimacy and vulnerability.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his barbershop series, where he explores a key similarity between heteronormative Black men and drag performers – the need to project the appearance of beauty, glamour, and success. Using images taken from hairstyle flipbooks, he drapes the hyper-masculine space of the barbershop – a space in which Shimoyama admits he never felt comfortable – in materials familiar to the drag scene, such as sequins, colorful beads, and costume jewels, as well as soft, feminine touches like silk flowers and bright, pink outlines. Interspersed are gold chains associated with wealth and power.
This plays into another set of paintings portraying Shimoyama and other Black men in the safe confines of their bathrooms. While the images may seem benign, even comforting, there’s an understanding that the subjects escape to these spaces out of necessity rather than choice.
As a person raised primarily by his mother and other female relatives, Shimoyama identifies more with women, a characteristic evident throughout the select works. While he obscures his subjects’ eyes with found materials, the eyes in his self-portraits are cut-out collage images of his mother’s eyes or the eyes of his other female relatives. The fantasy-driven Daphne and Daphne’s Prayers, two paintings that portray Shimoyama as an inversion of the Greek nymph, favor the feminine.
Shimoyama says many of his pieces are directly inspired by a need to make sense of the disbelief, horror, and betrayal he feels
Painted immediately after the 2016 presidential election, Flood exudes despair through the image of Shimoyama cowering on an American flag, snakes hissing in pain around him and his mother’s eyes, full of anger, watching from the backs of his hands as he covers his face. Weed Picker shows that even in times of calm, such as tending to one’s garden, tensions still loom, as signified by a telephone wire in the background from which hangs a pair of Yeezys (the line of sneakers made by Kanye West).
Cry, Baby will be on view through view through March 17, 2019.