Codes of Silence at The Richmond Art Gallery
By Ogheneofegor Obuwoma
The group exhibition Codes of Silence explores the alternative ways in which we speak by employing silence as a visual language, using it as a portal through which we might understand various implied emotions. Silence and contemplation are focal points that become tangible parts of the gallery’s physical space. Walking around the exhibition, I came to understand that each piece called for a moment of stillness and a willingness to contemplate the artists’ lived experience and their interests.
With works by Shirley Bruno, Aleesa Cohene, Caroline Monnet, and Cauleen Smith, as well as selections from the gallery’s permanent collection by artists such as Toni Onley, Leslie Poole, and Harry Stanbridge, Codes of Silence features a variety of videos, paintings, and even a poster. At first glance, they appear disparate, but are, in fact, woven together by this theme of contemplation. Silence leads to contemplation, not necessarily from the artists directly presenting their thoughts and emotions, but as an invitation to the viewers to share their emotions and wanderings with them.
In the first section of the exhibition by the entrance, two works welcome viewers. In her video Black and Blue Over You, Smith uses silence as a means for creating ceremony and holding grief through the presentation of the body and the repetitive act of placing flowers in a vase. Nearby are Stanbridge’s paintings from his Watchman Series, which are described in the gallery text as “portals.” They create an atmosphere for contemplation by providing an opportunity to stare into nothingness and feel stuck. Cohene’s piece in the next section also gives a moment of pause. Their video Kathy splices together clips from the actor Kathy Bates’s career. The accumulation of scenes reveals the artist’s interest in the power of visual culture through Bates’s various cinematic roles and their associated expectations. A poster blending multiple images of Bates hangs beside the television screen with free copies also offered to visitors.
Monnet’s video Creatura Dada lulls me into the next section. On screen, a group of women feasts and eventually enter a trance that keeps you waiting for something that never comes, before it starts again. A contemplative experience is created by the visuals and the bodies on screen. We follow these women without knowing what they say or where they go. There is a power in the artist’s choice to withhold information, letting viewers see only what they are comfortable sharing. Next, hidden behind dark curtains, we enter the cinematic world of Bruno’s Tezen. This folktale, told through mundane moments of living and silence, is filled with enchanting visuals, words, and songs wrapped in quiet. The duality of the film’s formal elements creates an unexpected, inviting atmosphere that draws one in.
In conversation with the permanent collection, the works in this show encourage viewers to embrace the aesthetics of visual language and the possibilities of silence to speak deeply about shared experiences of our inner worlds. Silence gives pause and allows us to understand our diverse experiences of the world.
Ogheneofegor Obuwoma is a Nigerian filmmaker, storyteller, and artist with a BFA in film and communications from Simon Fraser University. Her work explores “the personal” in relationship to her larger community and the cultural experience of being Nigerian. She is interested in African futurism and the ways we access the spirit.