Review: Peter Kayafas: Totems and Surendra Lawoti: Don River

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By Robert Moeller

Peter Kayafas, Eastern Washington, 2009

There is a wall separating these two shows at Gallery Kayafas, but don’t let that fool you. The wall is merely a structural trope metaphorically insisting on a purpose, for the kinship between these two artists is amazingly evident. Having their work on view simultaneously is clearly no accident.

Peter Kayafas works out in the open—more specifically, out in the very open. He photographs an assortment of disheveled buildings, some in the process of being swallowed by the earth, others simply tolerated by it. These stark sculptural structures, blistered by the wind, almost hum as they sit on the prairie, alone and undisturbed.

In North Dakota, 2010 a house or barn (or both) disappear into the ground, the roofs angled like the prows of two sinking ships. There is something ghostly about the image, an homage to impermanence that cuts to the quick. Oddly enough, these Totems, as Kayafas calls them, are rife with emotion and speak both backward and forward in time. They are markers of the past imbedded in the present.

Surendra Lawoti works on the banks of the Don River in Toronto, where the homeless gather in scant, makeshift-shelters. Tarps replace the rigid rooflines present in Kayafas’s work, sagging with the futility of daily survival. List of Needs is a brutally sad photograph of a piece of paper that lists some of the necessities needed for this kind of living. Flashlight, lighter…. The list is a damning litany of diminished expectations.

Paul Cook is a portrait of a man swaddled in layers of clothing. He stares into the camera and through it. Lawoti asks little of him and in return he gives the photographer everything—and nothing. He stands like a totem to the abandoned among us, a bleak reminder of everything we’d like to forget.
Where Kayafas looks at the erosion of things, Lawoti looks at their near destruction. With Kayafas, this is a natural process. With Lawoti, it is the result of social and economic forces that simply churn over people. Interestingly enough, the results aren’t as dissimilar as you might expect.

Gallery Kayafas • Boston, MA • • January 13–February 25, 2012


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