Art: Based on a True Story at the CAC

In their exhibition Based on a True Story — curated by Steven Matijcio — Duke Riley and Frohawk Two Feathers proffer their own epic narratives.

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In their exhibition Based on a True Story — curated by Steven Matijcio — Duke Riley and Frohawk Two Feathers proffer their own epic narratives. Wrestling historic imagery from the grips of hegemonic obsolescence, Riley and Frohawk weave them into a sprawling web of stories about a very different kind of protagonist — one who participates in civil yet rebellious patriotism. 

And while many of the narrative threads that Riley and Frohawk propose might hold a kernel of truth, both artists approach their work from the perspective of people on the fringes of societies, both real and imagined. 

Los Angeles-based artist Frohawk Two Feathers, the pseudonym of Umar Rashid, has been developing his “Frenglish Empire” storyline since 2006. His imaginary world enables Frohawk to retell the French Revolution as an alternate universe where France and England have joined ranks against the Dutch and other colonizers of the 18th and 19th centuries. But because this is a retelling of history, Frengland is filled with tattooed people adorned in symbols of contemporary culture.

Boston-born New York-based Duke Riley is likewise interested in historical obscurities. But while Frohawk seems to celebrate monarchical structures like the noble class, Riley is decidedly more populist in his approach. In his various projects focusing on outlier communities — “Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird,” Riley’s name for Petty’s Island, or “An Invitation to Lubberland,” about a Depression-era Cleveland riverside shantytown called Kingsbury Run — Riley employs installation, video, drawings and mosaics to recast the heroes and villains of historical dramas that happened in or near waterways. 

Based on a True Story runs though March 22 at the Contemporary Arts Center.

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