May 302020
 

Nina Chanel Abney’s In the Land Without Feelings (2017) from her 2017 exhibition Safe House at Mary Boone Gallery in collaboration with Jack Shainman Gallery.

From the press release-

Safe House is so termed for being a place of refuge. It is also a phrase used more colloquially as a space where one escapes the dangers affiliated with the law. With these eight single-panel paintings, Abney invites us into a place of reprieve, showing us people partaking in everyday activities. Abney’s scenarios offer sincere portrayals that counter how black life is represented in the mainstream media. The decision intentionally explores black joy as a means of resistance.

A deeply accomplished artist associated with innovating history painting, Abney took a multipart strategy to reclaim a space for creativity for this exhibition. To begin, she sourced graphics from posters dating from the 1960s that addressed aspects of safety for occupation, home, and leisure, abstracted these, and made them grounds for large-scale compositions. Then, against this backdrop Abney painted figures, objects, and letters to articulate the complex dynamics of contemporary urban life. She unequivocally is in pursuit of a depiction of commonplace activities and things. With each intuitively developed composition, each element such as the figures is often obfuscated by another element such as text, which in turn is challenged by a direction, such as an arrow. The imagery is reminiscent of sign painting, and each move made by Abney necessitates another. This chain of forms turns each element over to a type of writing, which opens a narrative and its reception to many readings. The abstracted source material (safety posters), combined with the abounding narratives from the detailed scenes, returns us to the title of the exhibition. The phrase prompts us to ask directly or obliquely: What caution and care are these narratives invoking and advocating? What danger might not be readily apparent to the viewer here?