Made in L.A. 2923 artist Akinsanya Kambon on how his life experiences have motivated his practice. | Video by Hammer Museum
Akinsanya Kambon is among the artists participating in the Hammer Museum biennial, Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living
THE SINGULAR PRACTICE of Akinsanya Kambon documents suppressed histories and reflects the beauty of African heritage. Kambon makes paintings, drawings, and ceramic works in the form of figurative sculptures, vessels, and wall reliefs. A U.S. Marine veteran, he served as lieutenant of culture for the Sacramento chapter of the Black Panther Party. He’s traveled to Africa more than a dozen times to Mali, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, where the Yoruba gave him his name.
Today, Kambon lives and works in Long Beach and is one of 39 participants in Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living, the Hammer Museum biennial that opened on Sunday. The artist is showing 10 clay works made between circa 2015 and 2022.
Kambon was born in Sacramento, where one day during a school lunch break, he snuck into the nearby Crocker Art Museum. He was paralyzed at the sight of the art. “My mouth dropped open and I couldn’t move,” he said in a new Hammer Museum video. “I just couldn’t take my eyes off the paintings.” The experience would portend his future.
In Vietnam, he served as a combat illustrator. Kambon said when he turned in his work, his superiors destroyed and discarded the images because, reflecting what he observed, they were too bloody. When he returned home, nobody wanted to talk about the war.
He learned about the inhumanity of slavery from fellow Marines. Growing up, he was told nothing about the subjugation and brutality of the institution. He had no idea his great grandfather was beheaded after the 1811 slave revolt in Louisiana. Stateside, he educated himself about Black history with books like “The World and Africa” by W.E.B. Dubois and “Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah.” He was determined to visualize what he was learning to share the rich narratives and brutal truths of Black history with others.
“These are stories that people have to know so that these things won’t happen again. If we don’t talk about it, we’ll never heal,” Kambon said “That’s when I started understanding the power of artwork. We’re all going to pass away. We are all going to die. But I think even if we do, the work that we do will be here and will still be teaching.” CT
Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living is on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, from Oct. 1-Dec. 31
On Oct. 17, Akinsanya Kambon will be in conversation at the Hammer Museum with Bridget R. Cooks, professor of art history and African American studies at UC Irvine
FIND MORE about Akinsanya Kambon on Instagram
READ MORE about the life and work of Akinsanya Kambon on Culture Type
The catalog accompanying Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living is currently availale at the Hammer Museum and will be published widely at the end of October. Akinsanya Kambon created a Black Panther Coloring Book in 1968 that is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (acquired in 2019). “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas” explores the work of the organization’s national minister of culture who also served as art director of The Black Panther newspaper.
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