Nina Chanel Abney: Fishing Was His Life

Nina Chanel Abney: Fishing Was His Life

Henry Art Gallery at University of Washington

View of Nina Chanel Abney: Fishing Was His Life, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, 2022. Photo: Jueqian Fang. 

November 3, 2022
Nina Chanel Abney
Fishing Was His Life
October 1, 2022–March 5, 2023
Henry Art Gallery
15th Ave NE & NE 41st St
98195 Seattle WA

Working across painting, printmaking, and large-scale murals, Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982, Chicago) creates dynamic compositions that engage potent themes, including race and gender, power and desire. Vibrant and animated with geometric symbols and shapes, Abney’s work has a disarming visual allure that reveals a matrix of social and cultural currents affecting contemporary life. Abney’s recent collages and new paintings on view in the exhibition Fishing Was His Life center the rich culture and commerce of fishing within the African American community. The work celebrates a long legacy of identity and self-determination intimately entangled with coastal fisheries while also conjuring the structural inequities that threaten Black life and livelihoods within the industry.

Abney addresses such racial inequities in her 2022 triptych Black People (BP), which references the catastrophic 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that disproportionately affected communities of color in the region. Suffused with pathos and tender humanity, the work evokes the conjoined and enduring violence of environmental and racial dispossession in the United States and the way Black life persists despite forces that attempt to foreclose it.

The work in Fishing Was His Life emerged from Abney’s encounter with photographs made by pioneering African American photographer Gordon Parks while he was on assignment for the Office of War Information as part of a government project to convey American fortitude during World War II. Between 1943 and 1944, Parks documented the fishing industry along the Atlantic coast through images of white fishing crews in and around Gloucester, Massachusetts and the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. Abney’s work is a response to those whose labor and resilience is missing from this documentation, and the history and culture obscured in the process. The resulting artworks, many monumental in scale, address the gap Abney identified in the visual record, creating images that honor African American inheritance within the fishing industry.  

Abney made the collage artworks in the exhibition through a collaborative process with master printers at Pace Prints using an array of techniques that generate rich surface textures. That suggestive tactility complements the representation of hands within Abney’s collages, a recurring motif across the exhibition that evokes the embodied labor and intimacy of both fishing and art making.

Abney’s exhibition extends outdoors, with an exterior mural on the facade of the museum. That mural is a companion to two collages on view in the galleries that provocatively stage the seafood market, evoking relationships between racialized bodies, commodities, and consumption.

Artist bio
Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982, Chicago) lives and works in New York. She earned her BFA from Augustana College and her MFA from the Parsons School of Design. Abney’s solo museum exhibition Royal Flush (2017) at the Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina, traveled to the Chicago Cultural Center; Institute of Contemporary Art and the California African American Museum in Los Angeles; and the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Abney has exhibited widely in additional solo presentations and group shows at venues including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France. Abney has created multiple large-scale, site-specific commissions, including most recently a major project for the Miami Worldcenter and another at the David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York. Her work is held in numerous public and private collections, including the Bronx Museum; the Brooklyn Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Rubell Family Collection; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Burger Collection, Hong Kong.

Nina Chanel Abney: Fishing Was His Life is organized by Nina Bozicnik. The collages on view in the exhibition are the culmination of Abney’s 2020 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship. Media sponsorship generously provided by KEXP.

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Henry Art Gallery at University of Washington
November 3, 2022

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