The Gladstone Hotel recently held its 13th annual art and design event, called Come Up to My Room. About 20 artists attended from Canada and US to transform the hotels’ spaces into unique art and design spaces. We were happy to hear that artist, Chinedu Ukabam, channeled some African art with his African barbershop art space.
We were glad to get some insight into why this scene spoke to Chinedu, and how he executed the Come Up to My Room project.
What attracts you most about African barbershops?
It’s the barbershops themselves as well the visual language that they use, such as those hand-painted signs, those oversized posters with different hairstyles. I like the fact that there is something timeless about those hand-painted signs. That was my jumpoff point in creating this, but you can also really tell a lot from barbershops about what the barbers and their clientele hold dear to themselves. If you’re in a barbershop in Lagos, Nigeria, you might see Arsenal, and Manchester paraphenilia because soccer is really big there. In Toronto, you are more likely to see basketball stars and boxers on the wall. I also liked the very communal vibe of the space. I feel like it’s a little window into the urban soul of that society.
How has this project helped you grow as an artist?
For this installation, I tried out a lot of things for the first time. I’m mostly a fashion designer and a graphic designer, I’m not really known as visual artist, and it was my first time really focusing on creating artwork that wasn’t going to end up on textiles or t-shirts. It was also my first time doing furniture design. I collaborated on a few pieces with my friend Gregorio Jimenez. It’s only my second time doing an installation like this, so it’s all really new to me. It was a lot of fun being able to saturate the whole space with my influences, inspirations, and my kind of art—popular art.
What is your key message for people who view your room at the exhibition?
I was hoping that the room would spark conversation around identity, and it really has. We have had multifaceted conversations about identity. The fluidity of identity and also how rigid identity can be. Funny things about identity and serious things about identity. It really made people question identity as it is defined but also pay attention to how we are curating our own identities now using social media and what that could mean for the nature of identity in the near future.?
FYI, images like these below are Chinedu’s inspiration:
The Come Up To My Room exhibition held at the Gladstone Hotel, Toronto, 21 – 24 January 2016.