Los Angeles

Jibade-Khalil Huffman: Kush Is My Cologne at Anat Ebgi

Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s solo exhibition at Anat Ebgi, Kush Is My Cologne, lifts its title from a track on Gucci Mane’s 2009 major label debut, The State vs. Radric Davis. The allusion is one of many in Huffman’s exhibition that indicate his fixation with the popular nodes that drive contemporary cultural production, particularly, the profundity and cultural insistence of hip-hop in a world that often refuses to acknowledge the omnipresence of racism and anti-Blackness.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. By The Author of Another Country and Nobody Knows My Name, 2017; transparencies in double light box; 35 x 31 x 6 1/8 in. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. By The Author of Another Country and Nobody Knows My Name, 2017; transparencies in double light box; 35 x 31 x 6 1/8 in. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

Resting in the far right corner of the main high-ceilinged gallery, Huffman’s film TFW (2017), with its hushed audio and manically edited visuals, draws the senses to the piece as a central locus. I park myself in front of the monitor, furiously scribbling all the references I can catch to peel apart the numerous audio and visual layers embedded into the film. TFW culls from popular culture, drawing its title from internet slang for “that feel when,” a meme that speaks to relationality and sociality. I glimpse snippets of Diana Ross attempting to grab the steering wheel of a car, Tommy Lee Jones playing teacher with superimposed lasers shooting from his tired eyes, a classroom of giggling Japanese students. Several animated motion-picture graphics of characters, which I assume are Huffman’s creations, are also inserted in various poses between photographic stills, grainy cellphone camera footage of a car driving down a road, a video of a young boy tenderly embracing a Spiderman piñata, and scenes from ’80s and’90s sitcoms. Sometimes the found footage is further manipulated, doubled, and transferred like ghosts. A Malcolm X interview is layered over the track of a consistently beating drum. Lines from Jay-Z’s “Young, Black, and Gifted” play: “I’m America’s worst nightmare / I’m young, black, and holding my nuts like, yeah / … / I grew up thinking life ain’t fair / … / There’s a different set of rules we abide by here.”

A little over midway through the loop, I wonder why I am so preoccupied with the task of tracing every reference, preventing me from contemplating the work as a single entity. I cool down, put my pen in my pocket, and let the video slowly expand. Huffman has stated, “I like working with media that already exist and exploding them with poetry.”[1] TFW utilizes the transformative capabilities of the appropriative sample, the repetition, the remix—postmodern ruptures that hip-hop has long championed and proliferated. Huffman, who is a published poet in the traditional sense, is preoccupied with this elastic reorganization of form and the utilization of language as material, which create meaning across disciplines.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. Kush Is My Cologne, January 21 – February 25, 2017; installation view, Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. Kush Is My Cologne, January 21 – February 25, 2017; installation view, Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

Though most of the works in Kush Is My Cologne appear two-dimensional, Huffman introduces a sculptural element in the form of an installation. Untitled (Blank Verse) (2017) is a transparency print mounted on canvas, which is then mounted onto an open steel rectangular frame, slightly off-center. A video looping with rotating color wheels, geometric shapes, and rapidly changing numbers is projected through the transparency, skewed along the stretch of a wall. The image printed on the transparency is further refracted through planes of light, the hung image, and haunting sound.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. Untitled (baggage), 2016; archival inkjet print; 53 5/8 x 29 7/8 in. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. Untitled (Baggage), 2016; archival inkjet print; 53 5/8 x 29 7/8 in. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

Huffman describes his works functioning “by using the subtitle as a form of translation,”[2] which gives the viewer an opportunity to interpret Huffman’s work through a trail of breadcrumbs that operate at the site of language. Untitled (Baggage) (2016), facing the entrance of the building, is a shimmer of colored petal shapes tiered over scenes of domesticity and images of Black children. Upon first glance, it appears to be a print with a lovely abstract design. The baggage of suppression reveals itself upon deeper consideration. A companion print in the foyer, Untitled (Tears) (2016), features similar petals fluttering over the surface, intermingling with black-and-white drawings of outdated electronic equipment and stylized pink chains.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. Dance Card, or, How To Say Anger When You Lose Control, 2017; archival inkjet on transparency and canvas; 35 3/4 x 30 7/8 in. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman. Dance Card, or, How To Say Anger When You Lose Control, 2017; archival inkjet on transparency and canvas; 35 3/4 x 30 7/8 in. Courtesy of Anat Ebgi. Photo: Michael Underwood.

A lightbox work, By the Author of Another Country and Nobody Knows My Name (2017), opens the conversation to include the legacy of the writer James Baldwin explicitly. Bold black text reading, “The Fire,” is prominently printed on the top layer against a photograph of a white vase holding a bouquet of carnations. The edges of the transparency are rendered to appear as if they are burning away at the edges, revealing the bottom transparency, where the text reads, “Next Time.” A fluorescent bulb illuminates the full title of Baldwin’s book addressing the history of race in the United States. Though Baldwin’s work was published fifty years ago, his phantom lingers as the pain and inevitability of racism persist through the present day. Huffman’s piece provides a rumination on what happens when we let the fractures grow and how systemic injustices are quietly absorbed as inheritance, interrupting the linear trajectory of expectation and compliance.

Jibade-Khalil Huffman: Kush Is My Cologne is on view at Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles through February 25, 2017.

 


[1] https://www.artforum.com/words/id=61382
[2] http://www.artpractical.com/column/endurance-tests-the-unmooring-of-jibade-khalil-huffman/

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