Devan Shimoyana in front of his painting, The Star

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Devan Shimoyana in front of his painting, The Star Ñito Salas

Devan Shimoyama, a queer arcanum, exhibits at the CAC

The artist, who claims a non-normative gender, creates his subjects from classic tarot figures using glitter, sequins, Swarovski crystals and flowers

Regina Sotorrío


Friday, 2 June 2023, 12:13

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There is the magician, the hermit, the devil, the force, the hanged man, the lover, the star, the madman and the judgement. Nine major subjects of the classic tarot of the 15th century that break with all convention. The figures shed their traditional image and are decorated with jewel-like eyes, Swarovski crystals, flowers and a lot (but a lot) of bling. All of them, moreover, are black.

Devan Shimoyama declares his Afro-American and queer identity, presenting himself as a contemporary and diverse arcanum, a 'radical act' with which he launches a message against racism and homophobia with a cheerful aesthetic.

Tell Me, which will be in Malaga until 27 August , is the Philadelphian artist's first exhibition in Spain and consists of fifteen pictorial collages around two metres high and in which he deploys a stack of colours and materials. Oils, pencils and vinyl paint are mixed with sequins, brooches, crystals, pieces of clothing and glitter. The result is attractive compositions with a "magical and joyful aura", says Helena Juncosa, curator of the exhibition together with Fernando Francés. A look that refers to the world of drag, queer culture, anime, cinema and fashion, the universe that surrounds Devan Shimoyama, 34. They are elements of "a zone of interstice" between the two identities, masculine and feminine, in which he feels "safe".

The Madman Ñito Salas

Devan says that he became interested in tarot during the pandemic. In these cards he found a tool to answer the transcendental questions that assailed him in those moments of uncertainty and fear. They made him question his own beliefs and allowed him, at the same time, to learn about himself. He was alone, so his reference image was him. And that is why he is the main character of this still unfinished series, which is enriched with others from his environment. The hierophant, pope or high priest is his grandfather; the popess, his grandmother; and the empress, his mother. "They have helped me grow," says the artist, who holds a master's degree in Fine Arts from Yale University.

A minor arcane (the jack of clubs) and two small pieces on reading cards complete this "journey of transformation" for the artist and "for any viewer" who can identify with what it represents. It is inspired by the traditional Marseilles deck, but also by the Rider Waite Smith tarot from the early 20th century, which had illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith, an African-American artist who introduced modernism but was "erased from art history" for being a woman and black. This is her particular "tribute".

Each piece is a jewel in itself, with crystals of different colours scattered throughout the painting and brooches for the eyes. He represents the characters in classical postures, with influences of "Caravaggio or Goya", but introduces elements of his childhood and his environment. In The Magician, the cup, sword and staff appear, but instead of the pentacle, two of the seven dragon balls from the popular Dragon Ball series can be seen. In The Madman, the cat Kirara from the series Inuyasha occupies the place that usually had the dog on that card. And the lion in The Force is the cat Jiji from the Studio Ghibli film Nicky, the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

They are "daring" and cheerful representations of the male figure that, despite appearances, speak of racism, homophobia and violence. His work is an exercise in activism. Devan Shimoyama believes it is necessary to "educate the gaze" towards such non-normative representations "to push the boundaries and stereotypes and deconstruct racist history". Because the world in general, and the US in particular, "is full" of examples of racial tension. A sometimes structural racism: "Black communities live in more isolated places and with more physical pressure making it more difficult to climb socially". He also denounces a regression in sexual freedom, with cases of homophobia and transphobia in many states "where they can't do drag shows or live normally."

The Hermi Ñito Salas

"By presenting my narrative here, by putting myself in the spotlight and giving recognition to black artists, I also send a message of non-racism and equality," he concludes.

After the electoral thrashing some have had, I hope they finally get the message. One thing is reality, which shows itself in number of votes, and another is Twitter, which is a parallel universe and really bad for giving sound advice. Elisabeth Noelle-Meumann's theory of the Spiral of Silence becomes fully valid in a brief analysis of the messages and trends of this network. The supposedly majority voices, those that make the most noise, tend to silence the rest? And then comes the truth, plain and simple, in the form of an absolute majority for Francisco de la Torre, who has been the most voted candidate even in the epicentres of political controversy, such as the old town (tourist apartments) and Repsol land (towers). What is most criticised on social media is massively supported by the voters. Little more to add.

Anyone who doesn't know the reality of Malaga could say, because of what comes through this channel, that it is a disasterous city, where no one can live unless they are practically a millionaire; and which has severe social differences and terrible problems. The reality is that Malaga is a thriving city, a reference for thousands of people from other provinces who come to make a living; it attracts talent and companies; it is a fashionable city for national and international tourism, and the dream place for many to live. And this is the basis of the problem, because residential demand far exceeds supply.

Social media has tried to polarise the campaign debate around several symbols of the mayor's administration, and the first one is the Torre del Puerto. From the results, it seems it will only disturb the landscape for a few, although it may be very noisy; while the majority either don't care or see it as an opportunity for work and business. And what about the urban forest and the dilemma over the Repsol towers? It has not occurred to any advisor to think that for most of the neighbours in the area, what they see is an opportunity for their old apartments in the area to be revalued, as has already happened in the Martiricos area.

But what is really shocking is the frontal attack on tourist apartments. It is clumsy to lose sight of the fact that thousands of families eat every month, or supplement their meagre pensions, thanks to that. And they are many more than the young people affected by the housing shortage, who undoubtedly need to be helped, but by offering facilities to buy their own home, which is what most of them want.

In short: for the next one, which is just around the corner, I recommend less Twitter and more street...

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