Akinsanya Kambon African influences

Jack Shainman Gallery presents its first solo exhibition of works by Akinsanya Kambon. Located at the 524 West 24th Street space through May 7, 2022, the exhibition features Kambon’s raku-fired ceramic sculptures which will be making their New York City debut.

Born as Mark Teemer, Kambon is a former U.S. Marine, art professor, and Black Panther. Getting his creative start at a young age, Akinsanya Kambon has decades of experience in drawing, painting, bronze work, and ceramic sculpting. Kambon’s lifetime of service and his range of experiences in conjunction with his artistic practice have culminated in a rich body of work dedicated to his Pan-Africanist beliefs.

Having traveled to Africa fourteen times, Kambon is heavily influenced by the time he spent living amongst the diverse ethnic groups throughout the continent. He first visited West African nations in 1974, and the knowledge of the Yoruba legends, gods and spirits passed to him through oral tradition and independent research is prevalent throughout this presentation.

In addition to the rich stories that permeate the works, process plays a fundamental role in Kambon’s practice.

The sculptures on view are fired in a kiln using an American raku technique. Heated to approximately 1800- 2000 degrees Fahrenheit the pieces are removed, red hot, with tongs and exposed to the air as they are transferred to a drum filled with combustibles such as hay, sawdust, newspaper, and eucalyptus leaves. Sealed with an airtight lid, the materials ignite. The lack of oxygen forces the detritus to smolder, and the smoke in this enclosed environment combines with the molten glaze to bring about changes to the color that are evident once cooled.

Though the process is unpredictable, when successful, the result is a beautiful, iridescent patina. For Akinsanya Kambon, this uncontrollable transformation is one of the many aspects of his practice that is guided by spiritual forces greater than himself. In the end, it is this technical process coupled with the nuanced stories and histories of the gods and goddesses that bring an even greater depth to each figure.

Of particular note, is Shango, the god of lightning and thunder, who is depicted in the work with his double-edged axe. His favorite wife Oya, the goddess of wind who precedes him in battle, is also depicted in a pregnant state.

Installed nearby is the herbalist, Osanyin, who was gifted the knowledge of medicine from a young age. While he treated many, he was eventually overcome by greed and began charging for his services. When one of Oya’s children with Shango fell sick, she took him to Osanyin, who ultimately turned her away for a lack of funds. When Shango learned his baby had died due to Osanyin’s inaction, he was filled with rage and sought revenge. The sculpture Osanyin in the exhibition depicts the herbalist missing an arm, leg, and eye, all taken from him by Shango following the loss of his child. While Shango wanted to end Osanyin, it was not until he was reminded that all knowledge of medicine would be lost with him if Osanyin was to die1.

From learning, to processing, to sharing the knowledge he has encountered over the years, the sculptures Kambon creates are vessels through which he enacts these motions. While Osanyin is a complex character in Kambon’s telling, he does reflect the knowledge that existed in African history that has been lost through time due to colonization. What’s more, the sculptures on view are the realization of Kambon’s own coming to terms with this collective loss of memory and history.

Now seventy-five, Akinsanya Kambon is an accomplished auto-didactic artist who uses his work to reflect his own storied journey. Through telling these stories of both the gods and everyday people found in African legend, Kambon hopes to reclaim this past and allow younger generations to have a sense of pride in their rich lineage. Above all is his everlasting commitment to community and his dedication to education. Kambon’s personal ethos is driven by a desire to introduce generations to information that will allow them opportunities to process their own lives in a way that was not available to himself at an early age.

About the Artist

Akinsanya Kambon (b. Sacramento, California, 1946) is an American sculptor and painter who lives and works in Long Beach, California. He attended Sacramento City College and earned both his BA and MA from California State University, Fresno.

Kambon was drafted as a Marine at the age of nineteen and served in Vietnam.

Following his return, he joined the Sacramento Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and served as the Lieutenant of Culture.

Kambon’s work has been prominently shown in exhibitions such as Expressions/African Roots: Akinsanya Kambon’s Ceramic Sculpture, presented at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California (2020-2021); All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50, presented at the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California (2016-2017); and This Tender, Fragile Thing, presented at The School | Jack Shainman Gallery, Kinderhook, NY (2022).

Kambon is included in public collections such as the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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