Dark Matter, 2015, performance video, dimensions variable Credit: Courtesy the Artist

A neon abstraction of Barack Obama’s eyes hangs high over “Onyx Odyssey,” Jefferson Pinder’s new solo exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, observing the artist’s interpretations of historical black male figures from civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois to Freddie Gray.

“Clearly Obama is a significant and contradictory figure of black power in America when police (state) violence against young black men is at the forefront of every newscast alongside updates of [his] actions as leader of the free world,” says exhibition curator Allison Peters Quinn.

“Onyx Odyssey” encompasses sculptures, neon work, and video pieces that reference Pinder’s own background and interest in performance. The multichannel video installation Countermeasure (2015) (formerly Dark Matter features the D.C.-based break-dancing troupe Lionz of Zion performing choreography that interprets the movements found during riots and protests.

Another video piece, Overture (Star of Ethiopia) (2015), re-creates Du Bois’s 1911 pageant The Star of Ethiopia with everyday Chicagoans. “It points out the disconnect between the methods of resistance over the centuries,” said Quinn, “and has a spark of hope that these barren city streets may produce the next radical thinker of our time.”

The sculptural aspects of Pinder’s exhibition are also performative in a sense: Gauntlet (2015), for example, consists of 200 handmade billy clubs suspended above the audience in gestures of protest that serve as a frozen counterpoint to the fluid gestures of Countermeasure.

A public talk with Pinder is scheduled for January 10, toward the end of the exhibition’s three-month run.  v