Nina Chanel Abney:
Eyes to the Front

Nina Chanel Abney uses witty, one-of-a-kind iconography to explore contemporary debates around identity and race.

feature by JANE O’SULLIVAN MAY 2019

A media pundit pushes buttons to get a reaction, sure, but also to force a point of view. When Nina Chanel Abney pushes buttons – and she does that a lot – it’s not so clear what she wants from you. Abney’s works are visually alluring. They have the rhythm of a Keith Haring mural, with an arresting play of colour. But what she paints is provocative, confusing and violent. They are, as she puts it, easy to swallow but hard to digest.

Still in her 30s, the New York-based artist has enjoyed an astronomical rise. Her 10-year survey, Royal Flush, has been touring the United States since 2017, and is now on show for the last time at the Neuberger Museum of Art in New York. The survey includes paintings, watercolours and collage and opens with the work that started it all: Class of 2007 (2007), a kind of school photo of her MFA cohort at New York’s Parsons School of Design. But Abney flipped things to paint herself as a white guard and her classmates as black prison guards. It was an act that knitted together a critique of both art education and the disproportionate incarceration of people of colour, and the work was quickly selected for the notable touring exhibition 30 Americans. A decade later, Abney was showing at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea. Right now in the United States, in addition to Royal Flush, Abney has a solo exhibition of her work at Florida’s Norton Museum of Art and a mural at... Subscribe to read this article in full

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