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SLAG Gallery is pleased to present Cousins, a solo exhibition of new works by Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola. Cousins marks the artist’s first solo show with the gallery and inaugurates the gallery’s new space in Chelsea, Manhattan. The exhibition will feature Akinbola's notable Du-rag collage paintings and present for the first time new sculptures that further his exploration of identity and belonging by interrogating how objects are racialized.
Akinbola’s work uses readymade and found objects to investigate cultural rituals, connections, and conflicts in the fashioning of identities. Asking us to question and articulate what makes an object “African,” “Black,” “White,” or “American,” he tackles the concept of ownership skillfully and cleverly through highlighting both the roots and routes of objects that have been associated with African and African American culture.
Akinbola masterfully obscures du-rags, iconic headwear warn to maintain and protect black hair, into paintings that interrogate themes of respectability, migration, personal consumption, and the commodification of Black culture. For him, the power of the du-rag as a symbol is based not only on its utility but also in its function outside of that utility. In Black and Brown communities, in the U.S. and abroad, the du-rag is utilized to protect one’s hair but has become a tool that signifies much more than respectability in this current era. Despite its utility, the du-rag has been used to manufacture and perpetuate ideas about race and class by broader publics, oftentimes associated with criminality and unkemptness. Akinbola’s practice of obfuscation of the du-rag forces the viewers to suspend those stereotypes and engage with the innate beauty of the objects.
Cousins also presents an expansion of Akinbola’s artistic practice and themes with the debut of his sculptural work. With his use of African sculptures, often found in global marketplaces from Lagos to Harlem, Madrid to Italy, and so on, the artist explores the tension of home through exploring how mass-produced objects that ostensibly represent “Blackness” shed light on how migration patterns impact identity formation and cultural belonging. He melds hand-carved Yoruba Ibeji twin effigies with Torino hairbrushes, which African American men and women use to create the popular hairstyle of the wave, thus manifesting the tension of identity by exploring how mass production splinters, fragments, and constantly reshapes cultural signifiers.
Building upon his visual lexicon, which features cassava, palm oil, branded clothing, and taxidermy animals, Cousins continues Akinbola’s practice of employing objects that carry culturally complex and specific associations within a society saturated in consumerism. He is attuned to the gulf between artistic intention and the viewer’s comprehension, and he transforms this chasm into a series of dialogues that will challenge viewers to interrogate their own biases and perceptions of cultural and racialized identities in a globalized world.
With the explosion and popularity of Afro-beat worldwide, the reclamation of the du-rag globally, and the monumental success of blockbusters like Black Panther, this exhibition comes at a critical moment in which Black people across the diaspora are using art, music, politics, and fashion to explore the possibilities and limitations of cultural reconciliation in the public sphere. The public conversation on homecoming, belonging, and identity formation has never been richer.