UNREPD is pleased to announce Like Watermelon for Chocolate, a solo presentation of artist Kirk Henriques paintings, featuring a selection of abstract and figurative works in oil and acrylic on fiberglass mesh. Opening on Juneteenth, or Black Independence Day, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, the exhibition will be on view through July 19, 2022.
At the center of this body of work is the watermelon, an icon ripe with socio-economic significance. The exhibition of Kirk Henriques paintings considers watermelon’s fraught history as a symbol of freedom and prosperity, as well as denigration and shame, for Black people in America. After the Civil War, Black people grew and sold watermelon as a way to support themselves in their newly-established independence. Because their success was threatening to the Southern social order, white people quickly stigmatized watermelon as a symbol of Black laziness, uncleanliness, and childishness; this stigma persists through present day. In his paintings, Henriques seeks to reclaim the watermelon as an uplifting symbol of Black independence across various contexts. Like Watermelon for Chocolate, then, is a meditation on the possibilities of freedom for Black people.
Inspired by Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate, the exhibition situates watermelon in a familial framework. In mining the depths of emotion based in personal spaces and experiences, the exhibition begins to take the shape of a Black American telenovela. Dramatic and poignant, Henriques’s paintings incorporate movement both literally and figuratively, leading viewers through the amalgam of signification within each piece; the Kirk Henriques paintings layered surfaces repeat materially the histories they represent. Henriques’s formal concerns therefore echo his narrative and, despite their historical bases, concern themselves with futurity.
The exhibition tells the story of an abstract idea of American life, one in which Black independence is a self-evident truth. If we begin from a place of Black freedom, the paintings posit, “American life” begins to look like Black joy, Black love, and Black peace. That is to say that if Black independence is the soil, the fruit it grows tastes as sweet as watermelon.
About Kirk Henriques
Kirk Henriques was born in Brooklyn, NY to Jamaican parents. He received his MFA from Cornell University in 2021.
Henriques explores both figuration and abstraction; he is interested in spatiality and visibility as they apply to Black people. His multilayered, mixed media works foreground the circumstances of their making through rips, cuts, and scraping, such that the formal and conceptual aspects of his work hold equal weight.
Kirk Henriques paintings have been featured in solo exhibitions at Charles Moffatt Gallery and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, and in numerous group exhibitions. He was a finalist for the AXA Art Prize.
He lives and works between New York and Georgia.
UNREPD is a contemporary art gallery in Melrose Hill, Los Angeles (619 N. Western Avenue). Featuring emerging and mid-career BIPOC, women, and non-binary artists, UNREPD removes barriers of entry for artists and collectors alike. Founded by two women of color, Dr. Sarah Mantilla Griffin and Tricia Benitez Beanum, UNREPD presents fine art in a designed environment.