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Interview by Jenna Elizabeth, imagery courtesy of Anthony Akinbola

"Anthony Akinbola's body of work speaks to the significance of the culture seen through the durag. It's powerful to see society and culture through the eyes of a man of color. There is an interesting twist that speaks to me." - ILYSM4ARTISTS Judge, Jerome LaMaar

: Hi Anthony! Congratulations!

Something I was really taken with in your submission, and when researching your work, is your comment about how the art world traditionally categorizes black art, and how you are attempting to close the spaces of how black art is seen by “subverting power dynamics”? Can you introduce you work to our audience and talk a little more about that, how your work straddles these spheres and challenges traditional conventions?

AA: I’ve been making Du Rag paintings for the past couple years and it originally came out of the urge to work with something I believed was “Unapologetically Black” my goal was to reverse the feeling of otherness and alienation I felt when I would visit art spaces like museums and galleries. 

I believe the paintings present a form of asymmetrical information that allows them to to only fully be accessed through experience and not necessarily art history or theory

I believe I’m taking back control when my work sits in spaces where it can function like that

it’s a what’s understood doesn’t need to be explained kinda thing

It’s one of the few items I’ve come across that functions in this way

: How has your identity evolved through your work over the years? You mentioned in your artist statement, “There is a constant effort to reconcile these three cultures [The African,” “The American,” and “The Negro”] which compose my identity.”

AA: When black people come to my shows I want it to feel like they are visiting their cousins house or going to aunties

I want it familiar

I’ve been able to learn a lot about myself through my practice

As I find and inspect material I come across the history of the items become very important, it’s their story.

It is through understanding these objects that I start to learn more about my relationship with them and as I unlock the material I’m also unlocking parts of myself.

I’m ideally searching for material I already have a relationship with and trying to understand why I have that relationship with it but not Johnny down the street doesn’t.

: Did you notice any themes emerge that were unintentional from the start of your work with durags?

AA: Yes

The conversation of Globalization and cultural production

Looking at the Du Rag as a mass produced object within global trade takes the object out of a conversation around respectability and brings it into one dealing with economic and cultural commodification

We are reminded of this by the made in china tags that sit on the seam of the Du Rag

So rather than the Du Rag being black, it’s American and black people just happen to be the Americans that use it.

Ownership has also become a new theme I’ve been struggling to understand

What is Black, What is White, What is American, What is African?

: That’s very interesting to me, and is something I have also been questioning in relation to my own ethnic heritage

AA: I’ve started the examine conversation around cultural production in relationship to these materials

: I’d like to go into your background, I read that you went from being a communications major at SUNY to an artist - how did that transition emerge?

AA: I think when I picked that major in college I was just kinda like “seems general enough, can probably get a job in media or something”

: It’s interesting though, because I think you have an extraordinary ability to articulate your messaging in relation to the actual work which sometimes is a struggle for a lot of artists and limits their ability to have bigger exposure.

So it’s an interesting skillset in relation to the act of creation itself which is a huge gift

What was the first piece you made around that time? And what inspired you to take that leap from an idea to action?

AA: but I’ve always been making stuff. While at SUNY I made the leap to focus on just making art. It was a time where I was around a lot of young artist and creatives and I wanted to take it all in. I was exposed to a lot of art at the time and I think that was the real push into my artistic endeavors

: Totally, what and who you’re exposed to is so key

A lot of our viewers are emerging artists, making that shift into getting their work recognized on a more critical level - how did you break through the noise?

AA: The first piece I can really remember making and showing publicly was a piece called “Target Practice”

It was a large collage piece on an American flag with photos of friends I had taken and their heads on shooting targets, all of which were sewn into the flag.

It was a very overt political piece but it was dealing with epistemic violence against black bodies. 

I believe I’m a bit more subtle in my gestures now, to some degree the Camouflage paintings are saying the same thing the “Target Practice” piece was attempting to say just more abstract

Honestly community has been a big part of it

I’ve had friends and contemporaries that have either introduced me to opportunities or directly provided them

Working together goes a long way in this art shit

Because at the end of the day all you really have is the community, other things will come

But don’t think someone’s just gonna come out of the clouds and discover you

It doesn’t work like that, I wish lol

: Right, I think that’s a healthier way of looking at it for sure. I think there’s so much pressure for people to just become viral instead of exploring their communities and realize timing happens differently for everyone.

But I think mentorship is important, when you organically attract someone that challenges you and asks the right questions

Were there any residencies or grants that were helpful to you?

AA: Residencies where very vital, not only in having the access to make work and be supported while doing it

But also for exposure 

More residencies you do, the more people you meet, the more people that see your art

I just completed MAD Museum Artist Studio and it was a really great experience. It was an environment where I was able to learn about the work I was making though conversation I wouldn’t have had in the studio just by myself

: I think that’s a good point, the need for dialogue btwn artists

AA: Yes, with artist but also with the public and those outside of a fine art context

: Something I’m fascinated by is outside interpretation. I read a story about you talking to a friend about the durag being genderless - can you expand on that?

AA: The utility of a Du Rag is to lay down and protect hair. That can be short hair, long hair, braids, dreadlocks etc

It’s no exclusive to men or women, it’s functions similar to that if a tooth brush or baby wipes

It’s a misconception that Du Rags are only for black men

: How does your choice of color affect the narrative in your work? What is that process like for you...

AA: I’m still learning how to work with color but it’s never really intentional

I work with what I have available

I started the variations of color based on different brands of Du Rag

So if there is 3 different purples in a composition that’s because they are all from different companies

A big part of the color process is going to various beauty supply stores

Just so I can find new colors or colors o need 

It’s like going to blick to get paint

: How has covid 19 impacted your work in relation to sourcing materials and being able to show your work?

AA: Well I had two shows that were already up before Covid 19 and the Institutions that house them have closed temporarily so that’s kind of a bummer

I was also suppose to have a solo show open April 3rd that I had been working on and that also got postponed

Thankfully I have enough material from over the years that sourcing isn’t a problem

I’ll never be at a loss when it comes to material, I believe limited access gives birth to new possibilities

So I’ve been working on some other things during this time, which has been kind of refreshing

: I’m looking forward to seeing what you create

Last question, what are three things you are loving right now that our readers at home can enage with?

AA: Back road Biking

Cooking healthy meals

Musical stylings of Poetic Thrust

: Anthony it’s been such a pleasure getting to know you. Don’t be a stranger, please keep us posted with your work and let us know the best way for people to support you online.

*For more of Anthony's work please visit
Instagram: @heyitsbunmi

"Anthony O. Akinbola (b. 1991, Columbia, MO), is a Nigerian-American interdisciplinary artist who employs the ready made motif in relation to the human experience and history. Attuned to the void between artistic intention and the viewer’s own comprehension, Akinbola transforms this chasm into a discourse of sorts, using it as a source of creative energy."