Object Lesson: Way Over There Inside Me (Ocean as a super throughway #4) by Torkwase Dyson

Torkwase Dyson (American, b. 1973), Way Over There Inside Me (Ocean as a super throughway #4), 2020, Graphite, acrylic, charcoal and ink on canvas, Museum Purchase, Robert P. Gordy Fund, 2020.36.1-4, Photography by Seth Boonchai © Torkwase Dyson

In 2020, NOMA presented Torkwase Dyson: Black Compositional Thought (15 Paintings for the Plantationocene), a suite of fifteen paintings by the artist produced specifically for the New Orleans Museum of Art. From this exhibition, which was the artist’s first solo presentation in the city, NOMA acquired Way Over There Inside Me (Ocean as a super throughway #4), a piece comprising four canvases from this larger series. This work is currently on view as part of NEW at NOMA: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art.

Way Over There Inside Me (Ocean as a super throughway #4) layers dense, minimal shapes, diagrammatic lines, and thick textures of graphite, acrylic, charcoal, and ink over washes of deep blue paint. Within her practice, Dyson has d

eveloped a unique vocabulary of abstract lines, forms, shapes, and edges inspired by the design systems of architecture, water infrastructure, the oil and gas industry, and the physical impact of global warming.

Dyson’s paintings explore the intersections of environment, movement, and architecture, often responding to the complex and layered histories of specific sites. Her project at NOMA was informed both by a series of deep-sea-diving expeditions the artist undertook in the Gulf of Mexico, visiting underwater pipelines and sites of petrochemical extraction, and by the legacy of the plantation systems that have so shaped this region.

Dyson draws a connection between the abstract forms of her art, and the complex histories that often hide in the abstractions of maps, diagrams, and data. Informed by her own evolving theory of Black Compositional Thought—a working term that considers how waterways, architecture, objects, and geographies are composed and inhabited by black bodies—her paintings consider the legacy of plantation economies and their relationship to the environmental and infrastructural issues of our current age, which many characterize as the “plantationocene.”

Her work takes up abstract painting as a tool for reshaping our current political landscape, asserting new perspectives on geography, imagination, and belonging. Dyson’s paintings show how the properties of energy, space, and scale can form new networks of liberation, injecting our current landscape with a new sense of precarity and emancipatory possibility. As she writes, “Environmental liberation is an ongoing practice, and, as a painter, I’m committed to a language of shape that thinks of our work as spatial and haunting; liquid and mountains; bird and lava. In this moment of climate change, I am certain that the beauty in black world-building will continue to be guided by the poetry of our own hands. As an artist, I am committed to praising black spatial genius through my work.”

Katie A. Pfohl, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

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