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Adebunmi Gbadebo's "Portraits" Grapple With Historical Legacy of Slavery

Using human hair from people of the African Diaspora.

New York City’s Claire Oliver Gallery is reopening to the public with a solo exhibition by artist Adebunmi Gbadebo. In her series of over 40 portraits for “A Dilemma of Inheritance,” Gbadebo draws from two former plantations in South Carolina — both called True Blue — to explore concepts of heredity and the evolution of memory and forgetting. A central material for Gbadebo is the usage of human hair, which carries the DNA of the people whose story she is telling. The works are rendered as pigmented, layered portraits, or topological maps, of her community’s history.

“As an artist I’m confronting my relationship with the color blue, Indigo, and materials cotton and rice in the context of their origins as commodities born of violence and enslavement,” says Gbadebo. “I’m interested in the whole system that produced these materials and how its memory has been treated. Furthermore, through the usage of Black human hair, the narratives I’m interested in depicting actually are the work itself.” Through her finished portraits, Gbadebo is able to investigate the materiality, memory and humanity of the historical legacy of slavery.

The conception behind the exhibition and its naming was inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ exploration of patrimony and the inheritance of status in his case for reparations. “We recognize our lineage as a generational trust, as inheritance, and the real dilemma posed by reparations is just that: a dilemma of inheritance,” he said. “It is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery.”

Check out a few of the exhibited works above. “A Dilemma of Inheritance” will run from September 17 to November 5 by appointment only.

Elsewhere in art, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s portrait of his friend Michael Patterson will lead Christie’s “New York State of Mind” sale next month.

Claire Oliver Gallery
2288 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd
New York, NY 10030

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