Marlon Forrester, StTrayvonGeorge23, from the series If Black Saints Could Fly 23: si volare posset nigra XXIII sanctorum, 2021. Oil, oil stick, acrylic, and gold leaf on linen. 86 × 52 inches (218.4 × 132.1 cm). Acquired through the generosity of James and Audrey Foster. Courtesy the artist. © Marlon Forrester. Installation view, 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2021. Photo by Mel Taing
Marlon Forrester is an artist and educator who frequently addresses the representations and uses of the Black masculine body in his paintings, photographs, and performances, often exploring the instability of identity and homelands. StTrayvonGeorge23 is from a series of monumental paintings called If Black Saints Could Fly 23: si volare posset nigra XXIII sanctorum, which Forrester made for the ICA’s 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition. If Black Saints Could Fly 23 draws on themes of resistance and freedom in legends of enslaved Africans who liberate themselves by flying home, here expanded upon through Forrester’s notion of a “psychic homeland,” a multilayered sense of identity, belonging, and disequilibrium. Each painting in the series features a frontally posed figure rendered with graphic flatness over an intricate, allover pattern referencing the geometric shapes found on basketball courts. These figures take their iconic poses and trappings of saints largely from sculptures that decorate the ornate portals on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France. Forrester also includes architectural details and finery from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, as well as references to the overlapping colonial histories of Guyana—from architectural fragments of a Dutch fortress to abstracted elements of Queen Elizabeth II’s crown. StTrayvonGeorge23 is dedicated to Trayvon Martin and George Floyd, whose racially motivated murders inspired uprisings against enduring legacies of anti-Black racial violence and injustice. Each painting in this series aims to counter historical exclusions by centering the Black masculine body as a site of celebration, commemoration, and transformation.