Multidisciplinary artist Coby Kennedy has joined the C24 Gallery roster of represented artists. Known for his powerful depictions of life in America that focus on challenging cultural realities, his work upends popular stereotypes and archetypical imagery in service of a bold, speculative, Afrofuturist vision.
Born and raised in Washington, DC in an arts and academia family (his father was Dean of the Art Department at Howard University and his mother was a working artist as well as a university professor), Kennedy has transformed an unflinching confrontation with both history and current events into a set of fantastical scenarios and characters that elevate our most challenging narratives to the level of mythology. With a background in industrial auto design, he embraces multiple materials that graphically embody the content of his works, including metal, fiberglass and bullet proof kevlar. Acknowledging the reality that, “...we (humans) are really good at finding reasons and innovative ways to kill each other,” his works explore everything from gentrification to racist violence to light & dark skin colorism within the Black community.
In the 2021 C24 Gallery exhibition, Street Life, C24 featured selections from Kennedy’s line of machetes hewn from recovered Brooklyn and Harlem street signs, which were created as part of a fictional civil war among the Black residents of Brooklyn for his series, In the Service of a Villain. Combining some of these street sign machetes into oversized mandalas, he repurposed what can be seen as symbols of placation (e.g. streets named for famous Black leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X) into powerful points of focus, drawing our attention to the common misdirection tactics used by oppressive forces to distract people from their true source of power.
Acrylic gel transfer, bulletproof ballistic grade Kevlar, plastic 46 x 34 in. (117 x 86.5 cm)
Kennedy centers multiple layers of historic Black experience in his work with an unflinching honesty as well as an incredible imagination. As part of In The Service Of A Villain, he brought to life a character called the Thuggernaut, born of the pervasive mischaracterization of Black men as “thugs.” In the gun vending machines from his series, Supply and Demand, he addressed the commodification of violence in modern, capitalist society.
More recently, his installation, Kalief Browder: The Box, brought to light the wrongful incarceration and torture of NYC teenager Kalief Browder for almost three years, ultimately leading to his death by suicide. The work, a life-sized glass and steel recreation of the solitary confinement cell where Browder was detained for much of his time at Rikers Island, was originally commissioned by Pioneer Works and is now traveling to various locations around the country as part of the Monumental Tour.
Coby Kennedy, Kalief Browder: The Box at Pioneer Works, 2021
Etched glass, steel, 8 x 10 x 6ft. (2.5 x 3 x 1.8 meters)