Imar Hutchins explores the legacy of African American resiliency in the face of injustice through a series of collage and mixed-media portraits. Adorned in elaborate jewelry and colorful symbolism his portraits are not only decorated in fanciful garb, but also cloaked in honor and dignity. Inspired by the reverence bestowed on cows in India, his work offers a unique commentary on the (mis)treatment of Black people in America. Hutchins' use of vintage Jet, Ebony and Life magazines along with old newspaper clippings helps to contextualize the Black American experience, while his surrealist imagery reimagines what it means to be seen as Black.
The works featured in Sacred Cows depict close friends and family members of the artist including his daughter, father and great uncle. His highly stylized portraits are not meant to be realistic representations of the individuals, but seek to reveal their inner beauty and inherent divinity. Animal characteristics, such as cow ears and horns, are added to the faces, as well as adinkra symbols and religious iconology, which are woven into the background of his assemblages. Through the blending of species, cultures and belief systems the artist calls attention to the parallels and paradoxes of sacred cattle and exploited chattel.
— Martina Dodd, Curator of Sacred Cows Exhibition, 2017
Dolen’s eyes are portals of intensity. She is known most readily for her literary authorship, but to examine the collaged layers of this canvas is to investigate beyond her well-known prose into the origins of such intensity. The visual information concentrated within her body offer biographical hints at the legacies that inform her work, her brilliance, and her inspiration. Imar’s signature geometry form the contours of her form, and from her crown of curls, emerge the horns distinctive of Imar’s sacred cows.
The distinctive profile of Toussaint Louverture pays homage to both the military leader of the Haitian Revolution and the pioneering modernist figuration attributed to Jacob Lawrence. In 1938, Lawrence created a series dedicated to Louverture, featuring a portrait sharing a similar profile. In his unique way, Imar uses the depths of navy blue to outline the details of Louverture’s corporeal form while signifying the ineffective Naval forces rebuffed by his tactical genius. As in most of Imar’s portraits, gold signifies the regal presence of the subject in the annals of history, which compliments the richness of aquatic hues dominating this particular canvas. A close reading of his military hat reveals a pair of sacred horns that recur throughout Imar’s brand of portraiture.
There is hardly a face more recognizable than that of The Greatest. Ali on canvas as in life cannot be silenced. In fact, a strip of the vintage Nation of Islam periodical “Muhammad Speaks”, affirms this fact. Images of protests against war, resistance to imperial domination, and prayers to the Divine formulate Ali’s suit, bow tie, and the shadows of his face. A radiant yellow background projects confidence and warmth behind golden selections of clippings that together depict a fiery young activist.
The stoic figure of Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. foregrounds a sea of blue. His figure is sculptural, reminiscent of carved power objects of West African origin. In his lifetime, Garvey envisioned a physical return of Black Americans- a crossing of the sea- to African lands of origin. Dressed in full regalia, royal purple hues draped with golden cords pronounce his leadership of the UNIA-ALC (Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League) and his visionary intentions towards unification and self-determination.
Josephine Baker’s signature style is under-acknowledged for its profound influence on the shape of modern aesthetics. From architecture to fine arts, her inimitable dance vernacular adorned with sleek couture introduced a silhouette that is still as unabashedly replicated by contemporary audiences as it was by her prominent Parisian peer group. Referencing the Parisian poster of the early 1930’s by Jean Chassaing, Imar amplifies Baker’s Art Deco style by layering bejeweled shapes, each framing elements of her personal history. Of the narratives illustrated by collaged source images, her conception of building a global family is portrayed within the sculpted coif that she is most famous for donning. Her progressive dream is literally on her mind and figuratively on her heart.
The direct gaze of a young Octavia Butler is arresting with thoughtful concentration and a peaceful aura that flows in concentric soft pink currents around her form. The dimensions of her likeness are composed of hand-typed excerpts from her novel manuscripts along with images of lunar landscapes and views of Earth from outer space. This poetic pairing illustrates her prophetic perspective of humankind from a transcendent plane of existence while uplifting her role as an Afro-Futurist forerunner. The winding road that forms the break of her jacket collar recalls the book-cover of one of her literary masterworks.
Imar’s most recently completed collage on canvas is compositionally informed by the September 1963 special issue cover of Ebony magazine, celebrating the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, his creative license moves this initial reference into the realm of metaphor. Instead of the magazine’s black background, a deep chocolate evocative of ebony wood is chosen as the portrait’s foundation. True to form, Douglass stares into a distance, towards future progression with intentionality and authority. The tones and scripts used for the majority of his skin and hair suggest aged papers of historic documents onto which Douglass’ abolitionist efforts helped to ink enlightened ideals.