Kyle Meyer at Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

©Kyle Meyer, Unidentified 47, 2017. Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery

Kyle Meyer’s Interwoven, on view at Yossi Milo Gallery through December 29, offers a unique approach to amplifying a community that is often shunned. Meyer photographs his subjects – gay men in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) – wearing colorful, patterned, wax-cloth headdresses. He prints the portraits, then shreds them into long strips and weaves them together with strips made from the fabric of the headdresses themselves to create the final, labor-intensive artwork.

As the title suggests, Interwoven is a nod to the construction of this work (Meyer, who is from the United States, learned to weave when he apprenticed in Swazi companies making baskets and rugs). But homosexuality is illegal in eSwatini, and the work also speaks to the ways in which members of the LGBTQ community, treated as criminals, are nonetheless part of the fabric of their culture, a marginalized group often forced to retreat into the shadows. Meyer even plays with gender roles, having his male subjects wear headdresses typically worn by women.

©Kyle Meyer, Unidentified 120, 2018. Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery

The trompe l’oeil effect of the final artwork is visually stunning but also practical: it acts as protection, since it renders the subjects nearly impossible to recognize. At the same time, when the works are hung on the gallery walls – some of which are covered with fabric that echoes the headdress – these men demand to be seen.

The result is a collection of vibrant, celebratory portraits that have a kaleidoscopic effect. The colors and patterns of the work shifts as the viewer gets close-up to appreciate the quality of Meyer’s work and then, as the viewer steps away, the layers of the piece merge and retreat. Although the subjects’ identities are hidden, the strips of fabric build a sense of an individual. When their images are woven together with the fabric, these men feel specific and unique: forced into hiding, yet ready to burst.