Neumann Wolfson Art is pleased to present Ozymandias, a group show which features work by Nina Chanel Abney, Michael van den Besselaar, Michael Bevilacqua, James Busby, Mark Flood, Justine Neuberger, Irina Jasnowski Pascual, Christian Schumann and Matthew Weinstein. This exhibition engages with the exploration of transience and power in the eponymous sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Shelley wrote Ozymandiasin the early 19th century, a time of renewed western interest in Egypt as a result of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. Victorian era fascination with Ancient Egyptian artifacts and culture influenced the aesthetics of romantic artists and writers. This fascination also inspired early 19th century discourses, which challenged existing paradigms of power and inspired feminist and black nationalist movements. The geographic location of Egypt, which evades easy placement in Africa or Asia, or within the East or West lent itself to discussions about race, nationhood and identity formation. Assertions of the Pharoah’s blackness and the recognition of a black ancient, noble lineage challenged Ethnographic justifications for slavery and influenced W. E. B. Du Bois’ writing about “double consciousness” of Africans in the “diaspora”. In addition, Ancient Egyptian representations of female Pharaohs inspired early 19th century discourse about gender and sexuality. Ozymandias recognizes the importance of these discussions of race, gender and identity today. In the sonnet Ozymandias, Shelley describes the ruins of a Sphynx. “And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay; Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.” What was once believed to be eternal, indestructible and omnipotent is now destroyed. The show Ozymandias explores themes of arrogance, the transience of power, the permanence of real art and emotional truth, and the relationship between artist and subject.