Between History and the Body

Between History and the Body

The 8th Floor

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011. Mixed media including rugs,
afghans, metal, fabric, and mannequin, 98.5 x 21.5 x 20 inches.*
July 2, 2015

July 9–October 16, 2015

Opening: July 9, 6–8pm, RSVP required

The 8th Floor
17 West 17th Street, 8th floor 
New York
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 11am–6pm, 
Saturday by appointment

info [​at​]

The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation presents Between History and the Body, an exhibition looking closely at the ways in which cultural identity is defined, how it is used as a force of exclusion, and how it works as a unifying and transformative energy among artists of diverse cultural backgrounds. The exhibition will be on view July 9 to October 16, 2015 at The 8th Floor, located at 17 West 17th Street, New York City.

Between History and the Body features artists Elia Alba, Firelei Baez, Nick Cave, Jean-Ulrick Désert, Nicolás Dumit Estévez, Brendan Fernandes, Jeffrey Gibson, Shaun Leonardo, Ana Mendieta, Paul Anthony Smith, Chungpo Tsering and Saya Woolfalk, who work across a variety of media including sculpture, painting, photography, performance and video. Together, these artists generate dialogue on cultural identity and history through representation of the body as an active force in ritual, both historic and imagined, and as an agent in the production of relics that communicate narratives of the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. 

Several artists in the exhibition work with masking and modes of dress. Elia Alba’s If I were a video features artist Nicolás Dumit Estévez performing in three different photo-transferred suits that depict a pastiche of racial identities. Paul Anthony Smith’s photographs of youths in his home city of Kingston, Jamaica are transformed with diamond patterns, which mask the figure and suggest additional layers of cultural experience. Jean-Ulrick Désert’s The Passion is comprised of a series of photographic portraits of figures dressed in football fan costumes—common in Germany and other parts of Europe—but produced all in white, removing the patriotic symbols that normally adorn the outfits. The Passion reveals the tribal qualities of mainstream identification that can be found in sports culture, where otherwise questionable aggression is acceptable.

Other artists in the exhibition, such as Shaun Leonardo, call into question which bodies matter. His recent drawings of slain African American men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner are paired with self-portraits that depict the artist as a wrestler in struggle with the invisible man.

Brendan Fernandes and Nicolás Dumit Estévez’s videos Foe and Tongue Training both demonstrate the nuance of voice and pronunciation as signifiers of class and cultural identity. In Estévez’s case, the erotic and comic converge in his tongue training. Fernandes’ Foe documents the artist’s attempt to learn the correct Indian and Canadian English pronunciation of phrases from J.M. Coetzee’s book (also titled Foe). 

Saya Woolfalk and Firelei Baez create objects and paintings, respectively, that conflate historical information with futuristic visions of cultural possibilities. Woolfalk’s Empathic Hides are relics from an ongoing project in which women, called the Empathics, discover bones that are believed to be remains of plant-human hybrids. A parallel project called ChimaTEK is a fictional product line conceived to enable customers to transcend ordinary limits, including those imposed by racism, sexism and ethnocentricity. Baez’s paintings and collages depict the female figure and body parts within reimagined ethnographic patterns, calling for a more empowered relationship to our own bodies and history.

Between History and the Body, curated by Artistic Director Sara Reisman, is the second in a series of exhibitions centered on the newly focused mission of The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, with an emphasis on art and social justice.

About The 8th Floor
The 8th Floor is a nonprofit exhibition and event space established in 2010 by Shelley and Donald Rubin. As a space for enacting the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation’s initiative, Art and Social Justice, The 8th Floor explores art’s role as an instrument for social change in the 21st century. The 8th Floor presents an annual program of Foundation-organized interdisciplinary and experimental programming that is free and open to the public, including contemporary art exhibitions, performances and salon-style discussions. Schools groups are encouraged. Viewing hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11am–6pm, and Saturday by appointment. For more information, please visit

For further information, members of the media may contact:
Andy Ptaschinski or Newlin Tillotson 
Blue Medium Inc.
T +212 675 1800 / andy [​at​] / newlin [​at​] 

George Bolster
The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation
T +646 738 3971 / gbolster [​at​]

*Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011. Mixed media including rugs, afghans, metal, fabric, and mannequin, 98.5 x 21.5 x 20 inches. © Nick Cave. Photo: James Prinz Photography. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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The 8th Floor
July 2, 2015

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