Inheritance, an exhibition of photography by Ivan McClellan and paintings by Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, foregrounds Black agricultural workers and teases out the cyclical nature of knowing, learning, and harvesting amongst these communities.
The pieces in this exhibition not only reflect an inheritance of land and labor — as well diverging economic and socio-political relationships to generational farming in the Southern United States and in Northern Ghana — but the constellation of Black folks that the artists are building relationships with across the two continents. Within Inheritance, portraiture functions as a vehicle through which McClellan and Quaicoe stretch beyond a singular, fleeting moment between artist and subject to recognize their sitters as both uniquely individual and distinctly connected to their ancestral practices.
Without being didactic, the passage of traditional modes of production from generation to generation takes center stage within the works. Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s larger-than-life paintings depicting shea farmers from his home country, Ghana, represent a group of people who are the primary producers of shea butter for the entire world. Despite their highly skilled labor and centuries of refining and adapting ancestral knowledge, anti-black capitalism ensures these farmers remain isolated from their due profits. In shades of black and gray accented by technicolor clothing and pillowy abstract backgrounds, the figures are expanded to nearly eight feet tall — unavoidable at any vantage point. The artist’s use of perspective shift in these portraits dually skews the subject vs. viewer power dynamic and pronunciates the farmers’ existence in and outside the gallery. By immortalizing Ghanaian shea farmers at this scale, Quaicoe acknowledges the human hand in this global commodity and gives space for visitors to do the same.