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This is an image of the artists Nina Chanel Abney, February James, Hakeem Olayinka and John Rivas.

Nina Chanel Abney
February James
Hakeem Olayinka
John Rivas

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling
New York, NY

March 9 - June 30, 2022

For the last two years, the smallest members of our community have been “masked up” for both their safety and ours. Until recently, we have taken for granted that the cognitive development of children's brains largely comes from seeing and interpreting faces. This has always been a natural part of their growth. We now know that building their minds in this way will require more work. That work inspired this exhibition, Face to Face.

All of the participating artists in this show (Nina Chanel Abney, February James, Hakeem Olayinka and John Rivas) work within the tradition of portraiture, though all the works in this show abstract the face through geometry, unconventional material, or by questioning how obscuring of the face impacts our ability to recognize each others humanity.

Through geometric abstraction, bold color and identifiable signifiers, Nina Chanel Abney creates a world firmly invested in play, but never forgets to point towards the complexities of contemporary life for Black people. While Nina’s work often looks towards the external forces impacting our community, (religion, institutionalized systems, etc.) John Rivas looks inward, creating intimate portraits of his family and close friends. That intimacy is reinforced by his unconventional use of materials to create these portraits.

February James, through her washy, almost dream-like portraits, calls on histories both familial and the obscured. Using the visual language of contemporary communication, she brings attention to figures sometimes erased by time. Hakeem Olayinka with his “planks” of obstructed faces peering through the holes of an imagined fence invite the viewer to contemplate issues of intimacy, perception, and safety.

All four of these artists offer a unique perspective on the ways in which interpreting the face allows us to develop a deeper connection with ourselves and the communities we are a part of.