Born 1974, Sumter, South Carolina; lives in Houston, Texas

Kenya Evans’s paintings and sculptures convey an intentionally didactic message about history’s tendency to repeat itself. In their sampling of diverse references, these pseudohistorical collages, which combine texts from children’s books with popular toys, and comics with Islamic proverbs, comment on the reductive simplicity of history books, while asserting their own critical analysis of the foundations on which the United States was built. In the painting Untitled (Overseer) (2003), the canvas is neatly covered in trademarked cotton logos. A text reads: “Nearby stood the overseer. It was his job to see that the slaves did their work well. If they didn’t, he used the big whip he always carried.” The simplified text is made absurd by the illustration, which shows a slave on the ground with one arm raised in self-defense from an imaginary whip being wielded by a drooling sharklike Transformers robot. Evans’s use of a cartoon character to represent the overseer might at first seem to trivialize the scene; however, the creature is mechanized—uncrushable—inferring the continued oppression of African Americans in contemporary society by the “machinery” of racism.

They Killed Raheem (2004) invokes the oppression of institutionalized racism. The sculpture consists of three flat vitrines joined together to form the shape of a boom box. Rose petals, the logo of the hip-hop group Public Enemy, and the lyrics of their 1989 song “Fight the Power,” written on circular discs of paper, constitute the “speakers.” “Fight the Power” is the title song of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, in which the character Radio Raheem, who always carried his boom box on his shoulder, is killed by the police. Lee’s film was a scathing critique of police brutality; Evans updates the critique by placing a plunger and the number 41 in the boom box’s central vitrine, references to the cases of Abner Louima, who in 1997 was brutalized while in custody of the NYPD, and Amadou Diallo, killed in 1999 by NYPD officers, who fired forty-one rounds.

Evans is also a hip-hop musician, and his use of the medium—itself a repository of black experience and a primary means of black expression—in his artwork functions to create a multilayered juxtaposition of historical and contemporary situations, making it all too clear that little has changed. ESM Evans is a member of Otabenga Jones & Associates, also in the 2006 Biennial.

MA more about this artist in the Biennial Catalogue

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Untitled (Overseer), 2003. Acrylic, latex, marker, and graphite on canvas, 30 x 38 in. (76.2 x 96.5 cm). Collection of the artist