Harper's is pleased to announce Still Life, a solo exhibition by Detroit-based artist, Anisa Rakaj. Presented within the intimate residential interior of Harper's Apartment, the exhibition features 11 new paintings by Rakaj. Still Life opens at Harper's Apartment on Saturday, March 18th, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.
In Still Life, Anisa Rakaj presents figuration through the lens of the nature morte. The artist creates dramatic scenes dripping in candlelight and satin, technically inspired by Maya Deren and Eadweard Muybridge, while stylistically taking a contemporary approach to the feminine and the baroque. The result is a fascinating series of hyperrealistic glimpses into a longer narrative. For Rakaj, Still Life is an exploration of movement and moment that questions the meaning of objecthood through an unorthodox presentation of scene and subject.
Rakaj’s settings are as much the subject of her paintings as her figures. She is a collector, and in her paintings, we see collections of objects found by the artist and choreographed into carefully calibrated scenes. In The Warm Up series, a bamboo backdrop reflects the glow of candlelight from a golden candelabra. Pink taffeta curtains are bound in large silk bows that reference the feminine in an overt presentation of beauty. Here, beauty meets darkness as doubled shadows loom across the multi-textured backdrop in an expression of duality that draws the eye to the figure.
In The Warm Up 2, a prostrate figure with a raised leg recalls the dynamism and dark seductive qualities of Catholic Baroque art. Rakaj, born in Albania and raised in Italy, finds influence in the tension between sensuality and submission seen in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Catholic Baroque paintings. Rakaj’s figure appears to embody submission before power, yet an ankle weight wrapped around the figure’s calf brings us back to the contemporary. The weight is bulky and unseemly, but wrapped around rich skin and posed flesh, its presence is imbued with intention; foregrounding a present-day pursuit of beauty between the bows.
In The Rehearsal series, Rakaj continues to embrace the feminine in all its stages. A glove is transformed from inanimate to animate when it is pulled upon the hand. A figure prepares to one day be seen in action. Arms drawn overhead into a circle are a halo, a symbol of infinity. In The Rehearsal 1 and 2, the rehearsal becomes the performance as we peer into a private world. In The Rehearsal 3, a body fallen upon a stool breaks the intentionality of the series. But flowing hair and braced legs are as much a mistake as Cézanne’s apples spilled over a tablecloth.
In Still Life, her most traditional presentation of the nature morte, Rakaj paints a bouquet of flowers rendered at the peak of their exuberance. Luscious yellow roses and green fern fronds break the shadows upon the objects below: lipstick, a doily, The Diary of Anaïs Nin. For Rakaj, Nin is a major source of inspiration for her lyricism and bold take on femininity. She draws upon Nin’s psychological insight to produce her own open-ended narratives, and here, uses her visage to invert the inanimacy of the tableau before us. To quote Nin, “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” In The Rehearsal, The Warm Up, and here at the night table in Still Life, our setting is certain. What happens is a mystery.
—Written by Toniann Fernandez
Anisa Rakaj (b. 1997, Albania) received a BFA from Cooper Union in 2020; she currently lives and works in Commerce Township, MI. She has presented work at Harper’s, Los Angeles (2023); America-Bashi Gallery, Tokyo (2023); NADA Miami (2022); The Shilla, Seoul (2022); Thierry Goldberg, New York (2022); and the Jack Siebert-curated popup, Life in an Ivory Tower (2022). Rakaj’s work has appeared in New American Paintings, Hypebeast, and Detroit Research.