The word refraction is a good one. It can begin to explain key contemporary ideas, such as the cultural shifts that occur because of voluntary migration, educational opportunity, political upheaval and the like. These shifts affect migrants, their home communities and their newly adopted ones, and speak to how these cultural changes might come to the surface through language, through dress, and, of course, through visual art. These complexities might start to be graspable through observing the phenomenon of light or other forms of energy passing through a medium and being changed in that process, altering direction or speed or even appearance.
To grasp the range of issues that come into play with the movement of people of the African Diaspora — away from the continent, around the world, and back again — the notion of a refraction is a generative place to begin. The exhibition, Refraction: New Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora at Steven Kasher gallery demonstrates how the enduring vitality of the continent’s traditional rituals of body adornment, masking, costuming, and spirit invocation are reinterpreted by image makers of African descent born between the 1970s and 1990s.