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Provokr: The Mystery of Kali

The story of the late photographer Kali is one of mystique, secrecy, and ubiquitous allure. Born in Long Island, New York as Joan Marie Archibald in the 1930s, the artist was married and divorced by the age of 30. It was after this period of time that she set forth on a pilgrimage to California where she ensued in a sunshine-filled life, quietly working on her photography and art behind closed doors. Only once Kali’s health began to decline in her old age did the vast majority of her work begin to receive recognition — first by the family members who discovered her expansive oeuvre, and later by the wider public.

Kali’s artistic inception appears to have begun with an allure for painting. The artist eventually made her foray into photography, blending the two mediums into an exemplary hybrid art form. Now portrayed at the Staley-Wise Gallery, Kali’s work is presented in the form of a first major exhibition. The photography-based works are a conglomerate of double exposures, polaroids, and security camera footage, among others. Speckled with light leaks, the one-of-kind images stand out in vivid blues, yellows, and reds, textured with natural objects such as sand and leaves. Kali’s creative process occurred behind the scenes, the photographer soaking images in her Palm Springs swimming pool and documenting images late at night. Convinced that extraterrestrial beings were following her, Kali claimed to witness flashing lights in the Pacific Palisades of California which she captured with her home security system.

Her subjects included still life objects, animals, family, friends, and additionally, self-portraiture. Her daughter, Susan, would become one of her most singular muses who later spoke on her mother’s work, commenting, “I want to call her a pioneer because my mother was one of the first black-and-white photographers that started painting and creating overlays to her photographs […] my mother always said, “the best photographers, the best artists do it alone.”’ It’s a very, very true statement. If you want to be great at something, you need to do it alone.”

The exhibition is on view at the Staley-Wise Gallery from September 30 to December 4, 2021. 

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