Rakeem Cunningham Opens First Solo Show at Ochi Projects June 26

Above:Rakeem Cunningham
Saber, 2021
Edition of 3
Archival inkjet print
24 x 16 in (61 x 40.6 cm)
CREDIT: Courtesy of the artist and Ochi Projects

Ochi Projects is pleased to announce Rakeem Cunningham: Hero, the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery to be presented from June 26 through August 7, 2021. An artist’s reception will be held on Saturday, June 26th, from 4:00 to 7:00 pm.
Hero features new photographs and a large-scale installation by Rakeem Cunningham that portray the artist and his abundant selves as he plays and poses alone in the studio informed and surrounded by a multiverse of niche subcultures. Each portrait is a declaration of subjectivity and existence—proof of self-validation and an ongoing healing journey that expands upon an outdated definition of hero.
Triggered by the designation of essential workers as heroes while being treated as disposable this past year, Cunningham paused to reflect upon his relationship to this loaded word. As a queer youth of color, he idolized heroes that didn’t look like him. Lazy metaphors—green or purple villains dressed in evil black—reinforced false dichotomies and ultimately white supremacy.

Above: Rakeem Cunningham
Hero, 2021
Edition of 3
Archival inkjet print
24 x 16 in (61 x 40.6 cm)
CREDIT: Courtesy of the artist and Ochi Projects.

Dressed and undressed in polyester superhero costumes, leotards, kimonos, wigs, and other items, Cunningham stages himself within unpretentious arrangements of draped fabrics, cast off foam, salvaged classroom materials, acetates, bubble wrap, fake grass, painted wood, and painters tape—a vernacular aesthetics of the San Fernando Valley that is both spontaneous and optimistic. Contrapposto while gazing into the distance or balancing while gracefully drawing an oversized weapon-sculpture—Cunningham appropriates poses from a cascade of emotionally charged scenes sourced from manga, anime, and video games with ecstatic flourishes inspired by the unrehearsed choreography of church-goers as they “catch the holy ghost.” These reperformances are akin to cosplay, a physical embodiment of fictional protagonists, or head-canon, a fan’s personal, idiosyncratic interpretation of a fictional canon. With a myriad of references in tow, Cunningham charges into the potent realm of the imaginary—an inherently radical space that envisions alternative realities and better futures.

Hero demonstrates that both play and healing test the boundaries of the self. Cunningham tirelessly becomes hero after hero after hero, though he sometimes wears his real glasses and iconic hair comb, notably in the work titled The Heroes Are Tired (2021). Cunningham wears a costume in which black lines draw exaggerated muscles onto our hero’s arms, which gently hold up the heavy head of a resting warrior—definitions will always be open to interpretation, but ultimately a Hero is determined by action.

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