John Michael Kohler Arts Center presents 'Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola: Magic City'

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John Michael Kohler Arts Center presents 'Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola: Magic City'
View of Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola: Magic City, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 2021. Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

SHEBOYGAN, WI.- Magic City, a large-scale installation by Nigerian-American artist Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola, is on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center through July 11, 2021. Conceived as a modern-day sanctuary, the site-specific installation explores the commodification of Black culture and the relationship between Africa and Black America. Magic City marks the 29-year-old artist’s first major solo museum exhibition, which can also be seen virtually on the museum’s website beginning on February 19.

The evocative nature of objects is at the core of Magic City. In Akinbola’s mystical space, mass-produced and readymade materials—specifically those with cultural currency in the Black community—are transformed into animistic power objects that communicate the complexities of identity. Durags—fabric scarves used to maintain Black hair—replace oil paint as a medium for creating monumentally-scaled action paintings; hundreds of stacked Murray’s hair pomade cans become looming minimalist totems; and a Cadillac Escalade morphs into a pulsating sound sculpture.

By tracing the arc of fetishism from Africa to contemporary America, Magic City challenges perceptions of cultural and racial identities in a globalized world by prompting viewers to question what makes an object “African,” “Black,” “White,” or “American.”

“Magic City is a temple to objects of worship from African culture and Black America and beyond,” Kaytie Johnson, senior curator, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, noted. “With a wry and thoughtful approach, Anthony uses asymmetric information as a tool to complicate and question issues surrounding identity, commodity fetishism, popular culture, and ritual under capitalism.”

Among the elements in the installation are Akinbola’s colorful paintings made with durags, which have been both objects of derision and symbols of power and resistance in Black culture. Often the fabric is positioned with the tags out revealing that they are made in China, a sly nod to the effects of globalization on these culturally specific objects.

“Akinbola has described his work as ‘metaphors for what a first-generation existence might look like,’ and his exploration of cultural belonging through the space between his African and American identity offers a compelling and immersive experience for visitors of all backgrounds,” notes Johnson.

Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola (born 1991, Columbia, MO) is a Nigerian-American interdisciplinary artist who uses readymade objects to investigate cultural rituals, connections, and the conflicts in the fashioning of identity. Akinbola has been included in solo and group exhibitions at venues including the Queens Museum, New York; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; False Flag, New York; Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw, Georgia; and pt. 2 Gallery, Oakland, California. He has been a resident artist at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass, Colorado; DordtYart, Dordrecht, Netherlands; and Verbeke Foundation, Kemzeke, Belgium. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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