Rakeem Cunningham presented by OCHI, Los Angeles

The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is pleased to host OCHI, Los Angeles for Headcanon, an exhibition of new collage works by Rakeem Cunningham at NADA’s new, year-round project space, located on the 2nd floor of Chinatown’s East Broadway Mall.

The exhibition can be viewed daily, 9am–7pm through a glass storefront, beginning May 5, 2022, with an opening reception on Friday, May 20, 4–6pm. Appointments can be made on weekdays with advance notice by emailing [email protected].

Press Release:
Headcanon features 10 new multidimensional and maximalist collage works that use the coded visuals of niche subcultures to navigate the artist’s personal struggles and frustrations with mental illness. A devout enthusiast of fantasy, anime, videogames, and manga, Cunningham assembles stills and excerpts from this diverse array of media in rhythmic expressions of the human condition that simultaneously convey aspects of his own queer, black, and neurodivergent experiences. By drawing upon the emotionally charged lexicon visible in the expanded world of Japanese animation, Cunningham creates works that affectively simulate the qualities of obsessive-compulsive disorder through form and content. Instinctively layering figure upon figure, collage becomes a therapeutic release and a somatic healing practice—one element of Cunningham’s mental healthcare practice that helps to create stability.

Faces full of fear, anger, surprise, depression, disgust, or ecstasy fill the surfaces of each collage gleaned from popular series such as Dragon Ball Z, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Demon Slayer. Screencapping stills of heightened states of emotion as he himself experiences distress, Cunningham decontextualizes characters and splices them into an endless mob of frustrated beings—frozen in their feelings, they help Cunningham’s to flow. Interrupting or surrounding emoting protagonists, appropriated and original graphic abstractions streak across surfaces, inspired by the nuanced and stylized visual expressions of emotions and thoughts found in anime and manga—electric sparks, speed lines, sweat, teardrops, nosebleeds, eye shapes, popping veins, and snot bubbles liberated from bodily forms. Contributing to this emotional landscape, Cunningham’s use of epoxy putty acts as a binding flesh—remnants of copy-paste-cut-glue-repeat include creases, cracks, and scars in the surfaces. As he embraces the process of creation and healing, these marks come to represent the artist’s own scars— Cunningham struggles with anxiety-induced dermatillomania.

Recontextualizing the absences, dismissals, and stereotyping of black characters in anime and manga, Cunningham highlights the problematic histories of the stories that provided refuge in throughout his youth. Through the manic and ritualistic cutting and pasting, Cunningham lets his insides out, rectifying his relationship with the safe havens he’s found and the canons that exist in his head.

– OCHI, Los Angeles

Rakeem Cunningham (b. 1992) is a multimedia artist and photographer based in Los Angeles, California. Cunningham's work explores the multivalence of queer black experience and radical self-acceptance through photography, collage, installation, and video works. Cunningham incorporates imagery and pathos from manga, anime, comics, video games, pop culture, and fashion sourced from his ever-growing personal archive into his practice in order to identify and subvert tropes and stereotypes of blackness in media. Cunningham received his BFA from the UCLA Design Media Arts department, is a member of Monte Vista Projects, and is represented by OCHI in Los Angeles, CA and Sun Valley, ID.