Boys Don’t Cry presents a new body of work by Nigerian-born New York-based artist Obi Agwam, who takes up painting as a realm in which we come into contact with a set of figures palpably caught in various emotional experiences. The subject of each of Agwam’s artworks first enters the world via a written journal entry from which the artist picks a line or two to be carried forward into the visual realm. In this way each image serves as a kind of visual distillation through which Agwam blends features and backgrounds together within a singular style of portraiture. Edging on surrealism, these individuals are imagined rather than specific in identity.
In recent contemporary painting there has been a myriad of emphases centered around what the Black experience and identity looks like; less so how it feels. Agwam concentrates his practice on this concern, seeking to disclose oftentimes conflicting, complicated subtleties of experience when words are too difficult, or simply fall short. Agwam’s figure appears alone in the composition, either looking to the left signifying the past in reflection; appearing straight-on in the present; or gazing to the right at an unknown future. Likewise various other symbolic keys occupy Agwam’s visual language. In one, I got hurt, I was too close to you, we find the figure of a fallen angel, looking upon a black bird with a rose, signifying a loss of love. Another image, Fighting What I Can’t See, falls across two canvases—the medium itself suggesting a split experience, insisting once again on the importance of room for interpretation.
Obi Agwam (b. 1999) received a BFA from the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. His work has been exhibited by Regular Normal Gallery, New Image Gallery, and Swivel in New York, and in Carlye Packer's House Parté, Palm Springs.