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Nina Chanel Abney: Cafeteria 2

Gund Commons

moCa Cleveland

  • Date Friday, January 27, 2023 - Sunday, January 07, 2024
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moCa Cleveland

Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art (moCa) is a dynamic cultural institution that constantly evolves in the city's cultural scene. As a non-collecting museum and the region's sole contemporary art museum, moCa regularly introduces new exhibitions, providing fresh experiences for visitors... more

Nina Chanel Abney’s site-specific mural, Cafeteria 2, was first unveiled alongside her solo exhibition at moCa, Big Butch Synergy (Jan 27-Jun 11, 2023). This mural incorporates elements from Big Butch Synergy and expands on Fishing Was His Life, her series of collages inspired by Gordon Parks’s photographs documenting the 1940s fishing industry in Gloucester, MA and at New York City’s Fulton Fish Market.

Abney transports audiences to a bustling cafeteria to explore themes of desire, loathing, and personal value in relation to gender and racial identity. Within this marketplace, sneakers, basketballs, and other goods are balanced by images of figures and price tags. She encourages visitors to think about how these goods are often read as masculine, contributing to the social dynamics that impact gender performance. Price tags connecting to the objects and figures highlight capitalism as a dominant power structure that we use to assign value to individuals based on race, class, gender, and social status.

At the base of this larger-than-life image, the artist includes “I AM,” paying homage to the pivotal “I Am A Man” signage used in the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike during the Civil Rights Movement. By notably omitting the word “man,” Abney leaves space for her experiences; she shines a light on discriminatory systems that work to maintain heteronormative ideals–beliefs that assume heterosexuality as the default sexual orientation–while also highlighting how the objects depicted have supported the formation of her identity as a Black, queer, masculine-of-center woman. This omission opens up the phrase as a resource for self-advocacy, while also reminding us about how our biased systems continue to center certain identities over others.

Nina Chanel Abney: Cafeteria 2


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