Anthony “Bunmi” Akinbola uses art as social commentary
Anthony “Bunmi” Akinbola would like to be known as an individual creator, not for a specific work. This may well be the product of his artistic evolution. Akinbola’s earliest memories of creating art occurred alongside his family; his parents owned a store in his hometown of Columbia, Missouri, while operating a local nonprofit arts organization. The child of Nigerian immigrants, he clearly remembers sitting in the back of his mother’s shop, rummaging through art supplies and monographs on Picasso, realizing that the forms he knew so well could be reconfigured, enlarged to create a visual commentary. In primary school, he made 50 copies of his drawings and sold them in the neighborhood; the self-proclaimed MacGyver created aluminum figures in his spare time, building toys from scratch using materials from his garage. What he calls “suburban-like creation”—a response to boredom—has since blossomed into an evolving, multidisciplinary career spanning media and themes. Even today, he infuses readymades and found objects into his work.
The Brooklyn-based artist considers his art as a reference. He clearly remembers an early collage he made atop a large American flag titled training target (2015), on which he stitched portraits he had taken of black friends, each revealing a different facial expression, their bodies replaced by silhouetted shooting targets. Akinbola had interviewed each person and taken their photos just a few years after he himself had been a victim of gun violence. He wanted to explore his own perspective on gun violence, and this, he believes, was a way to grow into his Black American identity. Growing up with a reinforced African identity, it took time for the artist to feel accepted as an American rather than a child of immigrants; from this point he began to incorporate shades of epistemic violence and critical race theory into his work, responding to its darkness throughout, only later wandering into themes like commodification and theory. colours.
Material plays an essential role in Akinbola’s art. He works with palm oil, casings, durags; every decision is important and rooted in research. The artist, for example, has spent the past four years exploring the use of palm oil beyond cooking, learning the practices of oil production, which require extensive land clearance and produce fire and smoke. In his work, palm oil symbolism evokes the calamity of the pandemic, a motif he said was “vague enough to be meaningful”. As for the casings, these are pieces that the artist encountered in Belgium during a 2017-2019 residency at The Verbeke Foundation. He started to think about sound, the lingering ghosts of casings hitting their target, and so he designed a device that would drop the casings of probability, allowing them to fall creating sound in space, whether there whether or not there is someone in space. . “It’s very similar to how these incidents happen outside on real streets, it happens whether you’re there or not,” the artist shared. While conducting preliminary research, Akinbola examined the different types of bullets, their origin and the different sounds they produced, the narrative changes that occurred over time playing into his work, largely with the aim of really understand the material.
Mindfulness and intentionality are paramount. As Akinbola makes his pieces, he strives to learn more about the world around him and allows his pieces to evolve naturally over time. Some bodies of work, he admits, become entirely different pieces as they progress. For example, his durag works – which initially dealt with accessibility and respectability, a response to the artist’s feeling altered upon entering the galleries – turned into two distinct conversations around composition and color, the ready-made nature of mass production. Each work reflects a process of self-discovery, beginning literally before moving on to a more theoretical approach to color, texture and the inflection of fabric. The works thus became more subversive, a form of figurative abstraction.
Each show is organized for the space in question. In Vienna, Akinbola’s recent “Multilateral” exhibition at the Krinzinger Gallery – where the artist obtained a residency in 2020 – is a response to life in Austria. The term multilateral itself is often used in international relations to describe the intersection of cultures, the joining of abstraction and representation between different bodies. The exhibition merges works from across the artist’s practice, including those from his acclaimed “CAMOUFLAGE” series, featuring the aforementioned durags, visual statements of black identity, global consumption and of cultural commodification. The exhibition also includes new works not yet shown to the public, drawing on palm oil and other materials to acknowledge the destruction wrought by COVID-19. Akinbola reiterates that he drew elements from his experience to bring the show to life, acknowledging that there are times when he just can’t work with certain materials depending on the location. “I remember bringing durags from America to Belgium to work on some paintings, and I didn’t even end up doing the paintings. It just didn’t call to be done at the time,” he explains. The durags, he reiterates, began as a commentary on his experience living as a black man in the United States, only later evolving into color theory while adapting the works to Vienna.
Akinbola appreciates that each work, and each series, presents a unique starting point triggered by a specific location. He hopes that for every lens and for every material, work, or series, he can return after a decade, recontextualize his lens, and add new, renewed depth to meaning. “If it’s a good work of art, you grow with it,” explains the artist. And growth is definitely on Akinbola’s radar. Most recently, the artist showed her work at Hauser & Wirth in “The New Bend” exhibition, which featured 12 contemporary artists exploring the racial, class and gender traditions of quilting and textile practice. He recently showed his work in Los Angeles, at an exhibition called “Black”, held in February, organized to examine the emotional impact of the color black. At the same time, the multidisciplinary artist writes a show with a friend, works on audiovisual projects and creates and writes programming for the family artistic association. “My career as an artist has a lot to do with the way I experience the world, my insecurities, my fears, my dreams, says Akinbola, it’s an attention for the banal, a respect for the everyday, a curiosity for the ‘unknown and yet to live.
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