In the dimly lit space of the Fridman Gallery in New York, the artworks of Ambrose Rhapsody Murray seek to rewrite history and put ancestral healing centre stage. These are the themes present in Murray's solo exhibition, Within Listening Distance of the Sea, where painted textile pieces reclaim images of Black women from colonial propaganda posters and become a testament to how the power of art can challenge stereotypes.
Murray's exhibitions consist of sewn and painted textiles that serve as portals to the past. They feature archival photographs of Black women from the early 1900s, images that were once circulated as postcards as colonial propaganda. Images that once exoticized Black people as primitive are now being reimagined by Murray as sites of protection, care, and love. They employ meticulous layering and manipulation to transform the original photographs, infusing them with a sense of magic and possibility.
The exhibition’s titular piece, Within Listening Distance of the Sea, particularly stands out. It is a monumental work that spans over nine feet in height, featuring a digital print on satin that has been layered with textiles and sequins. The piece serves as the show’s anchor, a centrepiece around which other works revolve and are considered extensions of in terms of concept. Within the piece, Murray's manipulation of archival photographs has been rendered in shades of blue and adorned with floral patterns, creating an ethereal quality that invites viewers to engage in a lengthy process of introspection and reflection.
Murray's pieces often employ the metaphor of the vessel—also a recurring motif throughout the exhibition in pieces such as Fairy in a Bottle, which takes the shape of a jug, yet another type of vessel. For this metaphor, Murray draws inspiration from multimedia artist Simone Leigh, who explores the concept of Black women as vessels of knowledge and containers for trauma. Through their art, Murray seeks to reclaim these metaphorical vessels as a place of safekeeping for their subjects, a sanctuary where Black women can assert agency over their bodies and experiences.
Texturally rich and visually striking, Murray's artworks are imbued with layers of meaning that speak to the interconnectedness of women's labour, bodies and cultural power. They do this by using Kantha quilts—a traditional form of hand-stitched quilting from India—as a poignant reminder of the global impact of colonialism and slavery on women's lives. By incorporating these quilts into their pieces, Murray highlights the resilience and creativity of women across different cultures and periods, a global need for healing.
In the legacy of their art, Murray hopes to leave behind a sense of empowerment and possibility for future generations. By revising and reclaiming historical narratives, Murray seeks to create a space for healing, recovery and magical transformation. Through their commitment to gender equality and ancestral healing, Murray's artworks serve as beacons of hope and resilience in an increasingly turbulent world.
As viewers immerse themselves in Murray's painted textiles, they are reminded of the power of art to transcend boundaries, uplift marginalized voices, and pave the way for a more equitable and compassionate society. In the hands of Ambrose Rhapsody Murray, textiles become more than just materials—they become vessels of healing, resilience, and ancestral wisdom, inviting audiences to listen closely and embark on a journey of transformation.