The Amazing Black-Man
The Amazing Black-Man
Kumasi J. Barnett
July 13 - August 17, 2019
Opening Reception: Saturday, July 13, 7-9pm
Lowell Ryan Projects is pleased to present The Amazing Black-Man, a solo exhibition by Brooklyn-based artist Kumasi J. Barnett. Riffing on The Amazing Spider-Man series, the show will feature a few dozen hand-painted comic book works pinned up in clear plastic sleeves. For each, Barnett has painted over the cover of an old Marvel series comic, replacing familiar heroes with The Amazing Black-Man; their full-body leotards with a hoodie and jeans; their supernatural villains with a more mundane but no less brutal nemesis––the police. Alteration here acts an intervention. Addressing real world issues through a superhuman genre, Barnett’s work dissolves the disconnect between contemporary American narratives and reality of “justice,” making us reexamine cultural conceptions surrounding the Good versus Evil paradigm.
A traditional comic book narrative is founded on simple plot structure: there is a villain that the police cannot contain, and so a citizen superhero steps in to save the day. Barnett clearly complicates this narrative. In a genre filled with rigid tropes, his work is imbued with ambiguities: What kind of superhero is The Amazing Black Man? In a society built on systemic racism, does his brown mask hide his identity or define it? Is his costume actually a costume? More importantly, what are his super powers? How will he triumph over his foe?
Pitted against menacing cops or else bound by chains and ropes, the character’s fate throughout the exhibition seems perpetually doomed; at the same time, by nature of being a series, it also does seem that he persists. Perhaps then, in a landscape of seemingly insurmountable police brutality, The Amazing Black-Man’s superpower is survival.
But then, is The Amazing Black-Man trying to save the world, or just himself? Character motive is a fundamental narrative question, and in this case one that forces us to reckon with a set of more theoretical considerations: namely, whether the former is even possible to attempt if one must do the latter. What does a black man’s constant need to protect his own body preclude? In America, the answer is too long for the page, too vast and varied for words. Yet that does not mean that it shouldn’t be sought. Authorship is a potent form of agency. Voice––whether written, painted, spoken, gestured, etc.––is a superpower anyone can harness. It can be wielded for Good or for Evil. It can be used to oppress, and also to fight back against oppression. In claiming authorship over traditional comic book narratives, Barnett seems quite aware of this; perhaps it’s why his work leaves the narrative open––in doing so, he invites viewers to join in the authorial act and finish writing the story themselves.
Kumasi J. Barnett is from Baltimore, MD and now lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Influenced by the aesthetics and narratives of comic books, his work subverts and imbues the often timeless genre with a present day social consciousness. Often, he paints directly over old copies of comic books, changing their narratives into critiques of police brutality, racial profiling, and more broadly, systemic racism. Barnett’s works have been exhibited widely both in the United States and abroad. Most recently, he had a solo booth at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show and shows with City Lore, The Arsenal Gallery, Sulphur Bath Studio, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. His work has been featured in Artforum, Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, and The Guardian, among many others. He received his MFA from The Ohio State University.