“Br’er Rabbit,” the legendary folktale character, is championed as an embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence who, by his actions and conduct, reassess societal norms and organization in the Uncle Remus tales published in post-Civil War, southern United States. Because of the era and manner in which they were collected and told, these tales have been cautiously celebrated amid the fact they stem from a historically difficult aspect of America’s culture. Artist Christopher Burch reconsiders this tale for contemporary audiences through his inserted character “Br’er Death” who acts as both foil, teacher, ally, and enemy to reveal the rabbit’s antics are actually not comical and amusing stories, but intentional, subversive actions against inhospitable surroundings, further expounding upon Burch’s interest exposing artificiality inherent within exterior identity. Christopher Burch’s “Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Death in the Land Of Shadows” at Oakland’s Aggregate space, filled with floor-to-ceiling murals, drawings, found art objects, and a stunning documentary film in the gallery’s media room, displays a new chapter of the artist’s ongoing project examining intersections of Blues music and culture, and Native American and Southern United States mythology and folklore within America’s history.
A more comprehensive exploration of the project since its debut at Book and Job Gallery in San Francisco, Burch’s solo exhibition includes several large murals encompassing the space that illustrate scenes from several Br’er Rabbit narratives. Their monochrome palette and composition converges contemporary styles with nostalgic motifs, while the scale of the characters among their surroundings give an indication of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles rabbit and skeleton, “Br’er Death” face. A small vignette of Disney’s “Song of the South” featuring Br’er Rabbit plays on loop, which doesn’t exactly ease the metaphoric tension: Br’er Rabbit is seen enjoying the freedom of the verdant valleys until he suddenly finds himself scooped up into a noose, the film fading out as he struggles to free himself. This ominous tone carries into the media room, which feature’s Burch’s documentary of historical plantations of the South and slave quarters from whence this story originated, as well as New Orleans’ St Louis Cemetery, paying particular attention to Marie Laveau’s burial site and the ambiguous markings on her tomb. Burch’s exhibition finds its greatest strength in his eloquent, thoughtful manner of interpreting and investigating some of America’s most disquieting realities, and the meaningful process he created to explore the way in which these histories and cultures have been woven into the cultural fabric of the country.
Christopher Burch, “The Missed-Adventures of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Death in the Land of Shadows” will b e on view at Aggregate Space, 801 West Grand Avenue, Oakland through September 21