Nina Chanel Abney, installation view, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2019. Courtesy of Nina Chanel Abney Studio. Photo by Charles Mayer Photography. © Nina Chanel Abney
Deeply invested in creating imagery that is legible and accessible, Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982, Chicago) is known for weaving colorful geometric shapes, cartoons, language, and symbols into chaotic and energetic compositions. At the ICA, she has created a mural that speaks to social tensions in the digital age, including the constant stream of true and false information, the dilemma of liberal racism, and abuses of power that lead to structural inequality.
Nina Chanel Abney’s painting practice spans a variety of forms: from canvases to playgrounds to fashion. She is perhaps best known for her large-scale public murals, whose improvisational, brightly-colored compositions channel the velocity of the information age. A vibrant language of graphic signs drawn from the internet, popular culture, and social media articulates the energy of viral content. At the same time, the interaction of dynamic forms conveys the fatiguing and seemingly inescapable conditions of life below the surface impression. The artist describes her playful, yet nonetheless challenging artwork as “easy to swallow and hard to digest.”
Through abstract figuration, text, and symbols, Abney mines the concept of public image, drawing on a variety of sources beyond fine art, such as mainstream media, celebrity news, cartoons, music, and other content that tumbles through the news cycle. Here, she collages colorful vinyl cutouts into a storyboard of the contemporary moment, asking what it means to level the playing field: politically as well as socioeconomically. A checkerboard pattern grounds the various characters (or players) in the narrative, referencing the historical, structural, and cultural impediments to progressive politics—inequality, segregation, and discrimination—both locally and nationwide.
Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982 in Chicago) earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Augustana College in 2004, where she studied computer science and studio art, and earned her Master of Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design in 2007. She currently lives in New York.