Hasani Sahlehe: Singing in the Response

Press release for Tops Gallery, Memphis 2022

The other direction. This is where life starts. As the grids of the skyscrapers disappear on the horizon, we dissolve with them. The air is heavy. We are slowly losing order. As the clean blocks, the rows, and the lines cease to function; we are left staring into a mirror where we barely recognize ourselves. The weather is constantly changing when drifting from one atmosphere to the next. One moment cacophonous clouds scurry from over the trees, then a silent breeze brings total absolution. Light and space are at play, as is memory. This world has been sculpted out of wind, water, and heat. This world is equal parts confusion and seduction. 

 Hasani Sahlehe remains in love with a place that no longer exists. He paints the infinity of distance, the vertigo of arrivals and departures. His paintings are confessional, invitations to follow him into a dream. To bear the same concatenations of memory. Contemplative visitors will note the scale of the grids Sahlehe builds. His built edifices are stacked side by side, each calmly luminous with diluted like and rhyming colors. The slabs or windows climb towards the sky, and we are left curious as to if the scale of the buildings is accurate or the result of Sahlehe’s distant memories. The necessary verticality to keep loved ones under a singular roof. He wants to conjure someplace with his name on it. But there is always the risk stand too long, staring too long, and you might never regain your sense of place. 

 We are all thinking differently about distance these days. Throughout the pandemic, I spent significant time at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, outside of Macon. One of the most stunning examples of Mississippian Era society building, built between 900 and 1100 A.D. The Great Temple Mound, the village’s centerpiece, stands at 60 feet tall and 770 feet wide at the base. All of this was built by moving the earth; large piles of dirt were dug from one area, then piled high and wide in another. It’s a marvel. Ascending the ladder to the flat-topped pyramid, you come face-to-face with the sky. It feels like the first time I’ve known the actual color of light. Everything else disappears. It seems like you’ve put real distance between yourself and America to be above the winds. But there is a fake serenity up here, as ghosts are lurking everywhere. I think again of Sahlehe’s built blocks and bands, the preternatural calm about them. Life is nomadic and violent, but here and there, in these moments of haze, you do not have to accept everything all at once. We can be still and dream of another planet.

-Daniel Fuller

Hasani Sahlehe (b. 1991) was born in St. Thomas, USVI. He graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015. His work has been exhibited at The Atlanta Contemporary, Atlanta, GA, 106 Green, New York, NY, 12.26, Dallas, TX, Resort, Baltimore, MD, Westobou, Augusta, GA amongst others. Recent press include ArtMaze Magazine, Bmore Art, Burnaway, Savannah Magazine, Art Papers, and New American Paintings.