Critics’ Picks

Dozie Kanu, teepee home (Pro Impact), 2016, extendable magnets, sports tape, mini boxing gloves, 12 x 4 x 4 in".

Dozie Kanu, teepee home (Pro Impact), 2016, extendable magnets, sports tape, mini boxing gloves, 12 x 4 x 4 in".

New York

Dozie Kanu

The Studio Museum in Harlem
429 West 127th St
November 15, 2019–March 15, 2020

Dozie Kanu’s debut solo museum exhibition, “Function,” features sculptures created from sourced and ready-made industrial materials—such as aluminum, hay, steel, spray paint, and wood—that contend with the ungraspable nature of blackness. Upon entering the Studio Museum’s 127th Street satellite space, viewers first encounter Chair [iii], 2018, a lavender seat and backrest in concrete that incorporates a car rim, which serves as the work’s base. The piece is an ode to Kanu’s hometown of Houston, and its native “slab” culture (the term is an acronym for a kind of customized automobile that is “slow, loud, and bangin’”). Situated on a platform nearby is teepee home (Pro Impact), 2016, a structure assembled from six extendable magnets, bound together at the top with sports tape. The bottom of each magnetized rod is outfitted with a small blue boxing glove. This makeshift model domicile has no protective outer covering—it’s a shelter that would leave you utterly vulnerable. The “Pro Impact” of the title—taken from the brand name emblazoned across each glove—also calls to mind the violence a fighter endures in a sport that often pits black bodies against one another for the entertainment of white audiences.

Kanu is concerned with how the objects we purchase denote our values. What we buy—be it the cheapest dollar store junk or the priciest showroom merch—says as much about one’s idiosyncratic tastes as it does about a person’s income bracket. But the artist scrambles easy reads on any single object within his assemblage-style works. Nothing is really as it seems: In his hands, the banal becomes tenderly beautiful; the prosaic, startlingly political. Indeed, the artist’s sculptures are totems of blackness—but a kind of blackness that is murky, multifarious, and vast.

“We out here tryna function, man, we out here tryna function,” stated the rapper E-40 in a 2012 song. Kanu’s sculptures work well as singular compositions, yes, but they resound marvelously as grand orchestras of thought.