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Robert Pruitt: Futuristic portraits gain a real edge

Robert Pruitt: Futuristic portraits gain a real edge
Robert Pruitt, "Archangel" (2015), mixed media on paper. (Gene Ogami)

In a lush exhibition at Koplin Del Rio, Robert Pruitt continues his engagement with Afro-futurist imagery, evolving his quixotic portraits in directions that are subtler and more ambitious.

For years, Pruitt's work has portrayed African American characters engaged in makeshift science fiction: a hat with a clothes-hanger antenna or choir robes emblazoned with "Star Trek" insignia. Now the futuristic references feel more real than wishful.

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"Captain America" depicts a female hero in a skin-tight suit and a high, fan-like hairdo. A headpiece that extends over one cheek feels vaguely African, but it also could be a microphone. Another woman, in street clothes, nonchalantly wears a jet pack strapped to her back.

To some extent the works have lost a wistful "what if" quality in favor of a more assertive, even aggressive presence. The seated woman and man in "Garveyite Celestials" link arms over a rifle with nary a futuristic detail in sight. "Archangel" eschews the figure altogether in favor of a sinister-looking surveillance drone from which dangle a cigarette box, flowers and a T-shirt that reads "I can't breathe." The folds of the T-shirt create the impression of a face: a shroud for Eric Garner. The piece gets at the double-edged bargain we've made with technologies that are no longer futuristic. Someone is always watching but also bearing witness.

Koplin Del Rio, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through Dec. 5. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.koplindelrio.com

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