"Tia J. Boyd: Future Inhabitants" at the Carver
The photographer's portraits of warrior women reveal the subjects' power and beauty in a post-postapocalyptic world
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Dec. 27, 2019
Most people these days hear "future" and reflexively picture totalitarian dystopias or postapocalyptic hellscapes, the futures that have dominated pop culture for decades now. Not Tia Boyd. In her new photography exhibit, she moves beyond those bleak prospects to envision a future in which we exploitative, rapacious humans have been wiped out (or, more likely, wiped ourselves out), leaving a cleansed Earth overseen by warrior women who have transcended humanity and become divine. The poster for the exhibit notes that these godlike women warriors "have come to terraform the planet for future inhabitants."
I can't say that such a narrative is clear in the 30-plus portraits hanging in the Carver Museum Gallery, but what is clear – unmistakably clear – is the power of the subjects: their strength, their spirit, their fortitude. One stands in a desert landscape, the horizon cutting across at her hips, so that her head and upper body are set against clouds and a sky of royal blue. But though she's low in the frame, she isn't diminished by all this nature; rather, her erect posture and the scythe held casually at her side put her in control of it – a warrior goddess of earth and heaven. Another stands in the clearing of a wooded area, her arms outstretched, one with her hand open, the other holding a kind of scepter covered in white fur. Her full-length dress, extravagantly patterned, billows in the back almost up to her waist. It could be that Boyd captured her in mid-twirl, as her skirt flew up, but in the context of the other portraits, it seems just as likely that she was caught flying, a goddess of the wind touching down.
Walking around the room in which all the portraits are placed, you encounter this power over and over. With some, it's expressed most fully in the subject's posture, assured and regal; with some, it's in their relationship to the environment, showing themselves to be in harmony with it or to use it in some way; with some, it's in the way they hold a blade as if they are one with it. With all, it's in their beauty, by which I don't mean magazine-cover supermodel beauty, but the inherent beauty of every human face and form. Boyd doesn't work with commercial models, and has no need to. She is able to bring forth in everyone she photographs an essence of beauty, and when you see it, as in these portraits, you witness the power of that beauty. That's accentuated here with dots, stripes, and marks of white and bright colors as part of the subjects' makeup, and wonderfully elaborate necklaces, bracelets, and earrings – adornments that enhance the sense that we are looking at divinity.
Interestingly, most of these warrior goddesses aren't looking back at us. They stand in profile or gaze downward or somewhere in the desert or forest where all the images are set. If we imagine them as existing in a post-postapocalyptic world, then perhaps they are contemplating the world that was or the one that will be once they have completed their transformation of it. Or perhaps they are imagining the future inhabitants of the exhibition's title. But the few whose eyes do engage the viewer do so with a commanding power. They have in them a fierceness and forcefulness that make clear you could not try to take them on in physical combat and hope to win. But they also could be communicating a challenge: Will you be a warrior for the world you have? Will you tap the power inside you – that strength and essence of beauty inside every human – and unlock your own divinity? You can. It's up to you.
“Tia J. Boyd: Future Inhabitants”George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center, 1165 Angelina
www.tiaboyd.format.com. Through Jan. 11