The deliberately gray vision of Sislej Xhafa
Sislej Xhafa doesn’t like to give interviews. He’s not interested in focusing his work on the coveted formula of inspiration and meaning that so many art enthusiasts thrive on. Like many artists, Xhafa would rather listen to the careful explanations of thoughtful gallery-goers and allow his audience to reach their own conclusions. In his first New York City solo exhibition, “when Mac goes black,” Xhafa presents visual depictions that center on the lessons of irony. Using the nuances of culture, he attempts to allow the personal revelations that take place when contemplation occurs surface rather than empty obsessions with the intention of the artist.
Xhafa’s “when Mac goes black” is comprised of three pieces that at first glance have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Their connection comes later, after the broad concepts of human condition and world economy find their way into the visitor’s personal review. Xhafa uses a dark, jaded version of slapstick humor to highlight the social inconsistencies of American culture and, through mixed media, calls attention using shock and awe.
“Untitled A” is a simply designed statement made of complex elements. Consisting of a human skull, wearing a red masquerade mask, sitting on top of a wooden table, this piece is instantly puzzling. The skull reminds the viewer of humanity, but the utilization of the mask can be interpreted in many different ways. “Untitled A” is placed in the middle of room with stark white walls, which adds an uneasy element to its presence.
“If you see something, say something” is a gray canvas with the six title words printed in the middle of the piece. No other color is included and no other images are created. Instead, Xhafa wants all the attention on this written command and invites the viewer to consider how that message affects their life concerning whether or not “saying something” has something to do with altruism or terrorism.
“Untitled B” is perhaps the most striking piece in “when Mac goes black.” Located in the north gallery of the space, it appears separate from the other two works in this exhibition. Simply put, “Untitled B” is an enlarged, black nightstick that takes up most of the wall. Playing with themes of power and law enforcement, Xhafa gives the viewer an alternative look at an instrument that is used exclusively for violence.
Unlike some exhibitions that boast an instant visual experience, “when Mac goes black” creates an initial understanding but then begs to be thought of again. Perhaps that is because Xhafa’s display is difficult to dismiss as just another artist subverting culture. This exhibition eventually resonates, and the experience is worth that initial uncomfortable feeling that maybe it’s over your head.