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Institute of Contemporary Art Miami

Image is courtesy the artist
Image is courtesy the artist

Nina Chanel Abney: Big Butch Energy

Nov 29, 2022 – Mar 12, 2023
Nina Chanel Abney: Big Butch Energy

“Big Butch Energy” features a new installation by Nina Chanel Abney, whose works in painting and sculpture use dynamic color and form to draw viewers into complex narratives. Through frequently reduced, 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 the circulation of visual culture.

With reference to the traditions of baroque portraiture and fraternity composites, and to scenes from popular slapstick comedies like Animal House, Abney deploys the culture of Greek student life to mine and trouble norms of racial and sexual desire in the U.S. In this series, Abney pays special homage to the figure of the Black masculine woman, suggesting, alongside Abney’s recent exhibitions, the artist’s 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,” says Abney. Through these works, the artist explores the tension between respectability and vulgarity, and how this tension often rests precipitously on a ravenous desire for social belonging.

Abney (b. 1982, Chicago) strives to signal narratives that speak to topics on politics, heritage, race, sexuality, and celebrity. The figures in her works typically appear as heavily stylized, graphic, geometric shapes against vivid backgrounds overlaid with symbols and patterns. Known for her frenetic, large-scale paintings, Abney has recently been commissioned to transform the Lincoln Center’s new David Geffen Hall’s façade in New York, drawing from the cultural heritage of the neighborhood previously known as San Juan Hill that comprised African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Puerto Rican families, which she similarly did recently for a public mural at the new Miami World C enter inspired by Overtown, a historic Black neighborhood in Miami. Her first solo exhibition debuted in 2017 at Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina, and subsequently toured to Chicago Cultural Center; Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the California African American Museum; and the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of 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 Irma and Norman Braman Artistic Director Alex Gartenfeld.