Dozie Kanu


    Dozie Kanu

    Privileging African diasporic history as an instrument for creation, Dozie Kanu’s practice builds its own unique visual language. Raised in Texas by Nigerian immigrant parents, Kanu grew up negotiating the idea of a home divided between two places. It was not until December 2018 that he was first able to visit Nigeria, during which time he observed a new and abundant source of aesthetic inspiration.

    Similar to the visual signals derived from his youth in Houston, while in Nigeria Kanu amassed a new set of aesthetic principles for an expanding series of work. At the core of this series, the artist mirrors the organic and tactile nature of the materials he encountered in Nigeria. This method of production engages Kanu’s evolving conception of his family’s home, and spotlights the qualities that existed in opposition to his preconceptions of African design prior to the visit. Further, Kanu continues his practice of repurposing objects by using pieces of aluminum and other found materials.

    In Chair [ix] (For Babies) Kanu employs hand-sculpted concrete, which is pigmented to create a rich Black color. The shape and build of the object uses a child’s high chair as its foundation, as denoted by the title of the work. Kanu also uses green aluminum sheets stripped from a Nigerian trunk to create a strong woven back to the chair, the artist’s gesture to African craft. Such elements are borrowed from a long tradition of hair braiding and weaving.

    At the forefront of his practice, Kanu produces objects disguised by their assumed utility. When embedding physical and visual content from his past, he also asserts an underlying ethos of following material intuition. Kanu relocated his practice from New York to Azoia de Cima, Portugal; the artist’s studio there is near a marble quarry, in a warehouse conveniently situated alongside a material often found in rarified object design. Pieces such as the one on display point not only to his unique understanding of conservation and rebirth, but also to his acknowledgement of art and design’s historical roots in Black artisanship. In the artist’s words, “American design doesn’t always include Black people.” With this in mind, the works here strive to make space for a uniquely Black vernacular for designing objects that draw from material recognizable to a diasporic lived experience.

    Kanu urges viewers to question whether looking at an object purely for its practical sensibility undermines its value as an expression of artistry. In this way his pieces may be more justly treated as contemporary artifacts. Their functions lie as much in their capacity for storytelling as in their practical use. By establishing longevity for these objects—creating in them a second life—Kanu finds a way to produce work that champions an intersection between history and material.

    text by Sami Hopkins