Lowell Ryan Projects is pleased to present 15 works by Kumasi J. Barnett that were created between 2015 and 2019. Utilizing traditional comic book narratives to address systemic racism, police brutality and hypocrisy, Kumasi J. Barnett alters the covers of actual comic books to retell classic good vs. evil stories as a reflection of the actual problems that plague our society. Central to Barnett’s narrative is “The Amazing Black-Man,” clothed not in a spandex leotard but instead in a hoodie and jeans, a representation for every Black man fighting for his right to exist in a world that is working against him. In Barnett’s work, “The Amazing Black-Man” does not battle supernatural villains, but instead, a no less brutal nemesis, the police, who are empowered by the weight of the law, society and the media. “The Amazing Black-Man’s” superpower ultimately lies in his survival.
Various other characters make appearances in Barnett’s works. The Incredible Hulk becomes “The Media’s Thug,” addressing among other issues the role the media plays in perpetuating a broken system. Superman changes his costume for one bearing the stars and bars of the confederate flag, a symbol of hate and oppression validated under the guise of Southern pride, drawing attention to issues of complacency, ignorance and repression. The Captain America series morphs into “Cops in America,” among others.
By addressing real world issues through a superhuman genre, Barnett’s work dissolves the disconnect between contemporary American narratives and the reality of “justice,” making us reexamine cultural conceptions surrounding the good versus evil paradigm.
“There has been a disconnect with some galleries and especially museums when it comes to my work. I initially thought it was because of the pop culture elements of comics but a colleague pointed out that there is a rawness and lack of sugar coating to the situations I paint. I think cultural institutions are skittish and scared to really push any buttons so work that addresses structural issues is not finding a place to be viewed. Museums are scared of losing patrons, donors, government support, and tax dollars. They also fear any sort of outrage so the work they put in shows was controversial 25 years ago, but now it is tame.”
- Kumasi J. Barnett
Kumasi J. Barnett received his MFA from The Ohio State University, and now lives and works in Baltimore, MD. Influenced by the aesthetics and narratives of comic books, his work subverts and imbues the often timeless genre with a present day social consciousness. Barnett frequently 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 both in the United States and abroad, including exhibitions at Lowell Ryan Projects, Los Angeles, CA; BravinLee programs, New York, NY; the SPRING/BREAK Art Show, New York, NY; City Lore, New York, NY; Con-Artist Collective, New York, NY; The Arsenal Gallery, New York, NY; Sulphur Bath Studio, Brooklyn, NY; and The Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY. Museum exhibitions include the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa; The Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL; and most recently the Verge Center for the Arts, Sacramento, CA. Barnett presented a solo booth with Lowell Ryan Projects at The Armory Show 2020, in the Focus section curated by Jamillah James. Barnett currently teaches at the School of the Art Institue of Chicago, and his work has been featured in Artforum, Ammo, Vibe, Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, Autre, Artnet News, and The Guardian, among others.
"Still, every now and then you wonder: With all their superpowers and abilities, shouldn't they be able to tackle the real problems that humanity is suffering from? Wouldn't it serve us all much better if Tony Stark would not invest his billions in high-tech toys for adults, but in the development and expansion of a climate-friendly energy supply? If Superman were to devote himself for a fortnight to demilitarizing war zones around the world and thus protecting millions of people from need, hunger and violence? Or if all of them together were to address the problem that even today in our Western societies people are still exposed to structural discrimination because of religion, sexual orientation or skin color?"
- Markus Binder in Allesfresser