Nina Chanel Abney Installation at The Institute of Contemporary Art

March 24, 2019 | By Juliana Tuozzola

African-American contemporary artist and painter Nina Chanel Abney addresses pop culture and racial conflicts in her vibrant mural at The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).

All of Abney’s artwork draws from modern content, such as celebrity news and social media, to spark both curiosity and conversation from the public, and the ICA mural is no exception.

While her art can be considered pop surrealism, Abney’s work certainly communicates a story and overarching message that is entirely authentic and unique. 


Photos by Juliana Tuozzola

There are a variety of messages conveyed through the art which channel different energies, yet a collective one. The parallel between direct statements and vague messages portrayed throughout her piece is astonishing. Her artwork provides a different experience depending on one’s heritage, background, and life experiences. It appears as though Abney’s visual art, which she describes as “easy to swallow and hard to digest,”  is intended to engage with the exhibitor’s internal stance and nature. 


The artist’s work ranges from canvases to large-scale murals. The mural on display at the ICA stretches from the floor to the ceiling, requiring constant movement and repositioning from visitors in order to view the whole artwork and fully understand the story it is conveying. Although the artwork is flashy and bold, and there is a concrete storyline, viewers are able to interpret the piece in their own way.


Photos by Juliana Tuozzola

Through her vivid and large portrayals of simplistic words and symbols, it feels as though her goal is for her art to inspire an open dialogue pertaining to contemporary issues of race and materialism. The mural displays the influence of money, social status, and hurdles that the African-American figures depicted may be faced with. The large geometric shapes, X’s, and money symbols that float around the painted figures represent many challenges that African-Americans have to overcome and the opportunities that they  are blocked from pursuing.


Abney’s murals tend to display elements of society and culture through the use of text, bold imagery, and bright colors. In one case, the inclusion of a thick green dollar sign embedded within the piece portrays the materialism of our society. In addition, the inclusion of words such as “WOW and “STOP” help relay the message that our society, which idolizes money and status, must stop and focus their energy on the good of humanity as a whole. She challenges people to study their unique position in the world with the hope that a solution for bettering society will come about. The mural is on display at the ICA until March 15, 2020.