ISAAC SCOTT: MOUROS
September 16—October 14, 2023
Lucy Lacoste Gallery is pleased to bring to the world Isaac Scott in the artist’s first major gallery exhibition Mouros, through October 14, 2023, in Concord, Massachusetts. Here the artist pushes the boundaries of contemporary art by creating a dialogue between the two mediums of ceramics and photography to tell the culturally relevant story of the Slave Trade as it originated in Lisbon, Portugal in 1455.
Isaac Scott received his MFA from Temple University in 2021 under Roberto Lugo. Introduced to Lucy Lacoste in 2022, Scott was included in a well-received group show at the Gallery that year in which he showed his #Philadelphia Series, sculpture inspired by the 2020 Riots in Philadelphia, the city where he lives, after the death of George Floyd. His photographs of the Riots were published by the New Yorker Magazine earning him the National Magazine Award for Feature Photographer of the Year.
Traveling through Portugal in 2022 during an artist residency in Cerdeira, Scott became aware that Lisbon was the city where the Slave Trade originated, with the blessing of the Pope under the guise of converting the Africans to Christianity. He also learned that many of the Moors who ruled the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages were Black Muslims. In response to this, the artist created Mouros, a series of ceramic heads that tell the stories of the peoples of West African descent and speak to these issues.
The term Moor refers to people from Northern Africa and Blacks from Western Africa. The Moors were from all over; it referred to anybody who worshipped Islam and had dark skin. It was also another word for foreigner.
He thinks of Mouros as immortal beings who have inhabited spaces in history and are now telling us their stories. For this exhibition, Scott made a series of heads that represent these beings, focusing on different aspects that were of interest from his research including the African diaspora and Hip-Hop Culture. These are paired with photographic rondels taken by the artist in contemporary Lisbon. Through the combination of the Heads and Rondels, the story of slavery in Lisbon is told, conveying the horror, irony and twists of this tragic chapter in history that continues to impact our world culture today.
“Every now and then one comes across a new artist whose work excites and is worthy of the highest accolades. Realizing the content and the art in this completely new series, I knew I had to do everything possible to bring it to light in the fullest possible way.” — Lucy Lacoste
Notes on the Artworks
Rua Do Poco Dos Negros, 2023
Road of the Black Pit is a street in Lisbon today. This street is a mass grave site for slaves. The irony is that the justification for taking the Slaves was so they could be converted to Christianity yet once converted, they were not considered worthy of being buried in the Catholic cemeteries. The Black Bust is wearing a crown of gold chain with eyes covered by a mask bearing the name of this street.
Pombo (Pigeon), 2023
The artist uses the pigeon as a symbol for the African Diaspora, which like the bird, spread all over the world and were domesticated. Most cities have feral pigeons. Once they are free, they are seen as a problem. The bust is covered with meticulously carved sculptured feathers with wings on the side.
Castelo Dos Mouros, 2023
This piece is inspired by the Moorish Castle in Cientro outside of Lisbon. The image is of a section of the castle. The plaque is a reference to another mass grave found at this location. After a renovation, experts were unable to distinguish which bodies were Moors or which bodies were Christian and reinterred them in a mass grave with a tombstone that read “What Man brought together only God can separate.”
Mouro do Graffiti, 2023
Here Scott was thinking about how Hip-Hop Culture and Graffiti have influenced Portugal. The photo is of Rosio Square, a destination for tourists and a cultural center in Lisbon today where slaves were once traded. The artform was started in America by people brought here through the Slave Trade, originated by Portugal, and now graffiti is here taking up space in the same area where slaves were traded. The ‘tags’ stand out in a way that is very present and dominate the Rosio Square. The cultural impact of what resonates in that space now is tied back to what the Portuguese started with the Slave Trade. The head has a graffiti tag on the back.
Igreja de Sao Domingos, 2023
There is a church of St. Dominic in Lisbon which is important for Afro-Portuguese people. It was the home of the first Black Brotherhood, the Brotherhood Our Lady of the Rosary. This sculpture references architecture in the church. Around the head is a crown of thorns which is also a rosary. The Brotherhood was made of Free and Enslaved Africans and helped them to become free. The statue in the photograph is outside Lisbon and is a sister statue to the one in Rio. He wanted to represent this overarching presence of Catholicism which looms over Lisbon, and ties back to Brazil, once a colony of Portugal. The Black Brotherhood that started this church still exists in Brazil.
This sculpture is based on the caravel, a ship designed by the Portuguese to be small enough to allow them to go down the Coast of Africa to capture Slaves. Around the Head, the wood of the ship is depicted, with the red representing blood. On the back is a prominent Red Cross emblazoned on the sail, an emblem of Christianity and all the things done in its name. The photograph is of the Placio do Comericio where slaves were first brought to be sold after leaving the ship.
Cerdeira 2, 2023
Cerdeira was an old agricultural village in the mountains where Scott did his residency. It was also an old schist village. Schist is a black stone that easily splits into layers. Cerdeira was occupied by Moors; its open to conjecture whether slaves were there. It is where the artist came up with the idea for this body of work and started creating. Scott says “I was there, and these heads hold the stories of people there—past, present, and future.”