Venue: White Columns Gallery (NY)
Date: Saturday 8, 2014
Review by Dawoud Kringle
An overlooked element of a legendary legacy is being presented by White Columns Gallery in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Curated by Alhena Katsof, and overseen by Ayesha Lateef, the visual artwork of the master musician, composer, author, artist, philosopher, educator, playwright, and science fiction novelist Dr. Yusef Lateef (1920 – 2013) is being presented in New York City. The title of the exhibition, Towards the Unknown is taken from a recording Dr. Lateef made with composer and percussionist Adam Rudolph.
Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Lateef was immersed in his creation of ‘autophysiopsychic music.’ This is a term of his invention that he defined as music that comes from one’s physical, mental, and spiritual self. Lateef applied this concept and process to all his artistic creations. Now, New York City has the opportunity to experience autophysiopsychic drawing and painting. The collection at White Columns is but one aspect of a meditation on sonic dimensions and their broader social significances, which he practiced in every aspect of his life and art for over seven decades.
In his lifetime, Dr. Lateef made over 100 works of visual art. Included in this are his innovative graphic musical notations and scores in which numbers and shapes organize complex interval-based music. Dr. Lateef’s process for creating visual art applied some of his wind instrument techniques to his art works (he played the tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, shanai, shofar, argol, and sarewa, as well as Taiwanese koto, piano and er-hu).
Within the astonishing intricacy of these paintings and drawings, each work bears a striking resemblance to a language that bridges abstract thought with mathematics. His process would involve (among other techniques) pouring small puddles of ink onto the page and then blow through a straw to spread the liquid. These pools would be interwoven with marks, lines, squiggles, and concentric circles. Each piece flows in a manner analogous to improvised music, and takes the viewer through the process of its creation. The result is that we are allowed a privileged glimpse into the mind of a genius and the heart of a visionary.
In private conversations I had with Dr. Lateef several years ago, he told me that music is an occupation and that he is a Muslim and a human being first and foremost. This consciousness of his own existence and sense of self as subservient to a universal absolute is clearly an integral aspect of his artistic greatness. Woven within the stream of consciousness manifesting in organic visuals, one sees references to Islam. These are always present yet never ostentatious or overbearing.
As I stood alone in White Columns gallery for the second viewing I took of the installation I had a moment of epiphany. I saw Dr. Lateef’s life and career as a poem; which itself was but a word in a longer poem that spans the history of the whole world. Each of us including you, the respected reader of this article, is part of this. Dr. Lateef did his work, and has earned his rest. Now it is our turn to finish ours.
The installation will run until December 20th, 2014. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Dawoud Kringle