Artist, writer, and UC Professor of Media & Cultural Studies John Jennings speaks about the exhibition REFLECTION ETERNAL: The CANDYMAN Illustrated Syllabus.
REFLECTION ETERNAL: The CANDYMAN Illustrated Syllabus was on view from August 31, 2019 to January 19, 2020.
Since the premiere of the first Candyman film in 1992, Clive Barker’s titular character has haunted the dreams and nightmares of an entire generation. The dark, violent, and romantic apparition has given us an index for projections of monstrosity and desire for black bodies.
Reflection Eternal: The Candyman Illustrated Syllabus, from the Black Kirby duo, explores the various possible social meanings of this haunted and horrifying spirit via a collection of installations, digital media, and printed artwork.
These explorations are executed by the Mother Boxx Collective; a cooperative of talented artists and designers who operate as an extension of Black Kirby and their pedagogical and culturally situated activist work. Black Kirby is also joined in Reflection Eternal by long-time collaborator Damian Duffy to form what the trio calls TAN LEE. Duffy is a New York Times best-selling author, Eisner Comics Award winner, and holds a PhD in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is on faculty.
BLACK KIRBY is a collaborative “entity” that is Stacey Robinson (Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Illustration, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign) and John Jennings (Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, UC Riverside). Black Kirby utilizes the device of the alter ego as a symbolic allegory for W. E. B. DuBois’s concept of “double-consciousness”. It functions as a rhetorical tool by appropriating the bold forms and energetic ideas of comics legend Jack Kirby combined with themes centered around Afrofuturism, social justice, representation, magical realism, and by using the culture of Hip Hop as a methodology for creating visual communication. Their work samples from Kirby’s style but also remixes it with the formal and conceptual influences from many other artists, pop culture, and artistic expressions through a variety of techniques such as bricolage, pastiche, oppositional juxtapositions, and deconstruction. Black Kirby expands the language of comics from artistic medium to conceptual crossroads to examine identity as a socialized notion. It is the artists’ hope to destabilize various ideas of “blackness” in order to promote a broader spectrum of black subjectivity. Their practice is largely informed by the theoretical construction Critical Race Design Studies.
Reflection Eternal: The Candyman Illustrated Syllabus is the second artist project from Black Kirby (John Jennings & Stacey Robinson) to inhabit UCR ARTS’ f/stop gallery, following Uncaged: Hero for Higher in Fall 2018. UCR ARTS periodically issues an invitation to create an artist project and in the past artists have engaged with our collections and objects, ideas and galleries, to create a personal response in the form of an exhibition.
Reflection Eternal runs parallel to a course on Afrofuturism and the Visual Cultures of Horror taught by John Jennings at UC Riverside and Stacey Robinson’s Nas Fellowship at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University for the 2019-2020 academic year. The exhibition highlights the inextricable link between Black Kirby’s artistic and pedagogical practice, thus expanding the notion of an artist project and transforming the gallery from an exhibition space to an illustrated syllabus or illabus. Reflection Eternal is organized by 10 weekly prompts that guide you through the themes and topics expressed in the artworks of Black Kirby, TAN LEE, and the Mother Boxx Collective. The weekly prompts, along with the installed bibliography, provide the context and grounding for the exhibition as well as an invitation for dialogue, discussion, and further investigation.