Come Up To My Room, the Gladstone’s annual art and design event, is fast approaching! From January 21-24, we’ll have over 20 artists coming from all over Canada and the US to transform our storied suites with art and design! No corner of the historic hotel will go untouched – including the bathrooms! Artist Chinedu Ukabam is transforming one our bathrooms into a representation of identity inspired by African barbershops. Check out the interview by Jess Shane!
(Left: Chinedu Ukabam with some pieces from his upcoming “Style and Profile” installation. Photo by Hawa Noor. Right: image from Indigoarts.com)
Can you describe the concept for your room at CUTMR?
“Style and Profile” takes its inspiration from African barbershops and also to some extent hair salons. When it comes to African pop-culture references, the visual language of those hand painted signs is an aesthetic that I find myself coming back to again and again. The barbershop itself also serves a space for debate and disseminating information so I wanted to create something that could do that while exploring the concept of identity.
What’s the story of your room?
I would describe my room as futuristic nostalgia. “Style and Profile” is an imaginary barbershop that is in the dual business of cutting hair and shaping identity. I wanted to create a space that showcases the Afro-pop-art design aesthetic while playfully prodding the fault lines of identity using everything from hairstyle portraits to video clips, animation and even bar codes. Identity is both serious and absurd, and sometimes both. As Identity is shifting and elusive, I wanted to arrange the portraits and the room in a way that was disorienting and a bit of a puzzle to crack.
(Chinedu Ukabam’s Ndebele wall art-inspired silk dress. Credit: Naz Tana / Chinedesign)
How does it relate to your practice as an artist?
I’m a fashion designer with a background in graphic design and I often look to Africa for inspiration. I sometimes recycle ideas across mediums, for instance patterns from textiles that I designed for past collections from my Chinedesign clothing line will be incorporated into the installation. “Style and Profile” is also in the same vein of an upcoming fashion-art exhibit I will be curating at the ROM and Harbourfront Centre called “Water Carry Me Go.” In both there is a web of stories woven underneath the outer layer. It is up to the viewer how much of it they want to peel back and unravel. Hint: download a QR code and bar code reader on your smart phone.
(Credit: GOT TIL IT’S GONE, Fashizblack Magazine by Mickael Carpin)
What’s the appeal of Come Up to My Room to you?
I get to create my own world. There is something about entering into a secluded space that encourages the viewer to suspend judgement and open themselves up to learning new things and re-imagining old ones. As an artist, I don’t have to worry about them being distracted, because almost every thing in the space was placed with intention. Until they leave the space, I have their full attention.