The most striking thing about the work in “I Am Katrina,” Jessica Wimbley’s solo debut at Western Project, is how peculiar it is. True visual weirdness of the sort that jolts one into paying attention, if for no other reason than because it eludes the standard channels of qualitative association, is rare enough in any artist still within a stone’s throw of graduate school. (Wimbley earned her MFA at UC Davis in 2005.)
It is all the more impressive in this case, given the well-trodden (if worthy) nature of Wimbley’s themes — identity, history, colonialism, diaspora, the gaze — and the clumsily democratic character of her medium, digital collage.
The works, all basically photographic, revolve around a young, black, female figure in a beaded necklace and a burlap sarong: the artist in the role of a quasi-mythical character named Katrina. Based loosely on the legend surrounding Marie Thérèse Coincoin, a freed slave in colonial Louisiana who became a land-owning entrepreneur, Katrina is an enigmatic but powerful presence, floating through Wimbley’s world with the air of a prophet or sorceress.