Growing up as a son of Nigerian immigrants in Missouri, Anthony Akinbola saw durags (a close-fitting, typically stretchable piece of cloth that is worn on the head that usually has long ends that are tied in the back, also known as do-rags) as a way to express his Black American identity as well as a way to assimilate into American society. Durags used to be worn to compress and protect Black hair and keep chemically processed waves smooth at night. In an interview with Sebastian Jean in office magazine last summer (2020), Akinbola said, “It’s important to understand the history of the object and that relates to conversations around accessibility and respectability. It’s funny because the durag was originally created to make you look less threatening and now it’s the flip. I want viewing my work to become a spiritual experience.” He continues, “It’s like a portal, I feel like black people can walk into my work.”
In Akinbola’s ongoing series of paintings, CAMOUFLAGE, the artist renders these durags as nearly unrecognizable, their original forms stretched and transformed on the canvas. His monochromatic paintings evoke art historical references to Color Field paintings, and the slight variations in color allude to the camouflage of military uniforms. The work on view at 21c Cincinnati, CAMOUFLAGE #7 (Hot Air Balloon), 2020 juxtaposes high contrast, bright colors—in reference to the bright colors and patterns of a hot air balloon. CAMOUFLAGUE #071 (Smuckers), a painting made of multiple shades of purple durags, playfully refences the iconic Concord Grape Jam.
Anthony Akinbola’s work is featured in What is Past is Prologue: An Elevate Exhibition at 21c Cincinnati, on view through October 2021 when it will travel to 21c Louisville in early December. 21c caught up with him on the heels of the closing of his solo gallery show, Market, at Night Gallery in Los Angeles.
How are you feeling today?
Anthony Akinbola (AA): Grateful.
What are you looking forward to in your art practice?
AA: I look forward to the life experiences brought about through the practice of making.
How can people continue to support artists in their communities?
AA: Building genuine relationships with the artist and supporting projects by working with the artist directly.
Do you have any protips or things you have learned in the past year that you would like to share with fellow artists?
AA: My biggest takeaway has been to stay true to what you do, even if nobody takes notice. Make the work for yourself or your people, never to sell.
What is your go-to food of choice these days?
AA: Anything that’s healthy, health is wealth!
Any new recipes that you have tried that you are excited to make again?
AA: No, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. It has been hard to cook! I’m rusty, lol.
What are you reading or watching or listening to that you would recommend to others?
About the Artist:
Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola (b. 1991) has been included in solo and group exhibitions at venues including the Queens Museum, New York; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; the Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI; FALSE FLAG, New York; and Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw, Georgia. 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.
To learn more about Anthony Akinbola’s work, follow him on Instagram @heyitsbunmi.