New York–based multidisciplinary artist LaJuné McMillian combines extended reality software and mediums including movement and sound to provide an exuberant visual critique of oppressive systems that commodify bodies and otherwise limit free expressions. Working with motion capture (witnessing) software, their work often translates the movements of Black people, seen as both individual and cultural identifiers, into powerful rhythms and explosive patterns and sounds. 

Integrating movement, sound, and prayer, the centerpiece of The Portal’s Keeper—Origins is the installation Spirit and Child, a series of prayers of healing and gratitude between avatars called the Child and the Spirit Guide, created using motion capture and 3D modeling software. As the two avatars share philosophies and prayers seeking to help “Black children trying to find their way home,” they confirm that home lies within themselves—the children are already there.  McMillian is present in all three elements: “Me as Child, me as Spirit, and me as I am now. This show is telling my origin story.” The videos will be projected onto fields of woven yaki, creating a soft, dreamlike sensation reinforcing the otherworldly nature of the videos.

The exhibition also includes McMillian’s foray into sculpture, as seen in a mannequin that was 3D printed from the artist’s head, wearing a dramatic wig made of yaki hair extensions and hand-woven craft elements. The artist considers this self-portrait to be part of a process of healing from the traumas that they experienced as a child. “Growing up,” they say, “I associated my relationship with my hair to pain and sacrifice. Sitting long hours in uncomfortable positions, I was told and reminded that beauty was pain, and that my ability to sit in stillness even when suffering would be rewarded. . . . I often wonder how we teach young Black children about pain. How we associate pain with obedience.” A series of holographic projections will focus on the artist’s interest in body movement, while an interactive station will invite visitors to enter their own prayers for healing.

Image: LaJuné McMillian. Still from Spirit & Child, 2024. Video installation. Courtesy of the artist

Organized by the Frist Art Museum

Supported in part by

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Clay Blevins

Gordon CAP Gallery Fund

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Presented in part by

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