Visual Arts Alumnus Kambui Olujimi ’13 in Group Show at Whitney Museum
Visual Arts alumnus Kambui Olujimi ’13 is presenting several works in Inheritance, a group exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, on view until February 2024.
The long-form exhibition, which occupies the museum’s entire sixth floor, “traces the profound impacts of legacy and the past across familial, historical, and aesthetic lines.” Each of the forty-three artists featured have reckoned with the challenges and questions raised by a critical investigation into inheritance and its counterpart: obligation. “Rather than passively accepting our current state,” the exhibit’s curatorial essay points out, “the artists whose work is on view here ask: How did we get here, as individuals and as a society, and where are we going?”
Olujimi’s works, which he created during the Covid-19 pandemic as part of his twenty-two piece Quarantine series, draw attention to the human and socio-political costs of 2020’s events.
In Your King is on Fire (14” x 11,” watercolor and graphite on paper, 2020), a three-part series that depicts a political figure standing erect on an imperial podium, the solitary figure is increasingly engulfed by white, then blue, then orange and maroon flames.
Beside this work hangs Hart Island Crew (23 ½” × 28 ⅛,” watercolor, ink, and graphite pencil on paper, 2020), in which hazmat suited figures arrange wooden coffins into graves while three armed officers stand perched on a hill above. Behind them, the sky’s pink, mauve, and peach swipes of color lend a sense of unease to the composition.
The keen juxtapositions Olujimi employs in these works freeze the frame on the narrative thread ever present in moments of historical upheaval, without usurping the very physical and human realities beneath it. Though the circumstances of the time necessitated the otherworldly practices depicted in Hart Island Crew—the hazmat suits, the coffins that are little more than blocks of unvarnished wood—we are still aware of the physical reality inside, the tangibility of a human being who has died. Such subtle but specific details create a sublime opportunity to pause and to consider who we are, what we’ve inherited, and how we might go forth.
Kambui Olujimi was born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn. Olujimi’s work complicates and reconsiders established modes of thinking that have morphed into what commonly function as "inevitabilities." Approaching themes of erasure, collective memory and the ineffable from multiple angles of inquiry, his work is expressive and non-linear rather than didactic. His works have premiered nationally at The Sundance Film Festival, Studio Museum in Harlem, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Mass MoCA. His work has been featured internationally at Museo Nacional Reina Sofía in Madrid; Kunsthal Rotterdam in Netherlands; Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Finland and Para Site in Hong Kong, and soon to be shown at Sharjah Biennial 15, among others.