Nick Cave & Phyllis Galembo
Call and Response: Africa to America

May 27 - June 26

Chicago artist Nick Cave creates costume/sculptures that he calls Soundsuits consisting of brightly colored fabrics, elaborate embroidery, beadwork, raffia and natural materials. Phyllis Galembo’s photographic portraits feature masqueraders from the West African countries of Benin, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Call and Response: Africa to America / The Art of Nick Cave and Phyllis Galembo pairs the work of these two uniquely American artists, each of whom explores the contours of West African masquerade through their art. This exhibition highlights the role of ritual traditions within the formation of cultural identity. While Galembo’s intriguing photographs document actual masquerade performers in elaborate “costume,” Nick Cave’s Soundsuits offer a poetic response incorporating a cornucopia of natural and cultural elements rich in associative possibilities.

The combination of these two artist’s work offers a powerful celebration of creativity, imagination, and cross-cultural communication. Call and Response: Africa to America seeks to draw both the obvious and subtle parallels between the works of Galembo and Cave.



Nick Cave
Call and Response: Africa to America

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits evince a strong affinity for the formal traditions of West African masquerade though his influences are much wider ranging. Through his work, Cave explores the role of ceremony in ritual, myth and identity. He does this through a layering of diverse materials such as fabrics, embroidery, beads, sequins, found objects, twigs, leaves and hair. These materials are transformed through the mind of the artist into potent talisman. Kenneth Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle states “The obvious brilliance of Cave’s work lies in its striking mix of materials, its labor-intensive surface energy and the humor that ripples through it. But the work stands out because it does not sacrifice all critical spirit to effect its near-irresistible appeal.”


Phyllis Galembo

Art in America praised Phyllis Galembo’s combination of a “careful, almost ethnographic observation with a deep sense of mystical wonder” and The New York Times noted the “dignity, conviction, and formal power” in her work. The elaborate costumes created for weddings and burials, initiations, chiefs’ coronations, and holidays are often made of inexpensive materials such as raffia, carved wood, coarse fabrics, crocheted yarns, flowers, grasses, leaves, and sticks. The outfits run a gamut of dramatic designs and shapes, from striped-knit bodysuits to appliquéd fabric costumes as voluminous as tents. They might represent male or female entities, animals like elk and jaguar, or various spirits. As art writer Anne Doran pointed out, “Galembo’s primary interest is the wearer’s belief in the power of ritual costume to alter their everyday reality.”

Community Partners 2017