“Big Butch Energy” features a new installation by Nina Chanel Abney, whose works in painting and collage use dynamic color and form to draw viewers into complex narratives. Through stylized, cubistic, and highly charged painterly symbols, Abney references radical traditions of graphic design and street art to communicate urgent political and cultural realities with immediacy to the largest possible audience. In these latest works, Abney explores how gender perception and performance is inspired by the legacies of social ritual and visual culture. Inspired by her experience as a masculine-of-center woman, with this body of work Abney asks how viewers gender a figure in a work of art.
Abney mines cinematic and media representations of Greek student life in this series to trouble norms of racist systems and sexual desire in the United States. The complex compositions reference scenes from popular slapstick comedy films like National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and Porky’s (1981), while citing traditions of baroque portraiture and fraternity composites. Abney pays special homage to the figure of the Black masculine woman, suggesting, alongside other recent exhibitions, her affinity for Black women and men who abstain from hetero- and cis-normative performances of gender.
“Instead of just rewriting Greek life narratives with queer Black characters, I wanted to highlight the implicit flamboyance and homoeroticism of frat house and sorority house environments,” Abney says. Through these works, the artist explores the tension between respectability and vulgarity, and how this tension often rests precipitously on a ravenous yearning for social belonging.
Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982, Chicago) has been honored with solo exhibitions at the Gordon Parks Foundation, Pleasantville, New York (2022; traveled to Henry Art Gallery, Seattle); the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2019–21); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018); and the Contemporary Dayton, Ohio (2021). Additionally, her solo exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (2017), toured to the Chicago Cultural Center; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the California African American Museum, Los Angeles; and the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Recently, Abney has created monumental public murals on the facade of David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York and for the new Miami Worldcenter inspired by Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. Abney’s work is held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
We acknowledge the support of Kavita Kulkarni in writing this statement.
ICA Miami is committed to reducing its climate footprint by adopting best practices for sustainability and partnering with organizations that focus on conservation. As part of this effort, ICA Miami has adopted sustainable shipping methods for all exhibitions and implements carbon offsets for select major exhibitions. For “Big Butch Energy”, ICA Miami is calculating the total carbon emissions and will donate funds to local and national organizations specializing in conservation to offset the carbon footprint of the exhibition. ICA Miami’s sustainability planning is ongoing. In 2020, the museum was among the original grantees for the first Frankenthaler Foundation funding for sustainability efforts in the arts.
“Nina Chanel Abney: Big Butch Energy” is organized by ICA Miami and curated by Alex Gartenfeld, Irma and Norman Braman Artistic Director.
Major support is provided by AIG, Christian Louboutin, and The GoDA.
Lead support is provided by Matthew and Stephanie Herfield.
Additional support is provided by Gaelle Alexis and Jeffrey Magid. The artist thanks Pace Prints for their collaboration on production.