An exhibition on Jamaican dancehall culture is coming to New York

‘Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test’ explores the storied scene, Black style, and the tension between photography and memory.

by Mahoro Seward
28 January 2020, 11:59am

Image from the OUCH Archive, bequeathed to Akeem Smith. Courtesy of Akeem Smith and Red Bull Arts

It’s no secret that Jamaica’s dancehall culture has become a truly global phenomenon in recent years. Now, the storied scene is the focus of a forthcoming exhibition by stylist Akeem Smith at Red Bull Arts in New York.

Photo of Akeem Smith by Paul Sepuya
Photo by Paul Sepuya.

Best known for his styling work for Yeezy, HBA and The Row -- as well as for being the mastermind behind the cult NYC brand Section 8 -- this will be Akeem’s first major solo exhibition. Entitled Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test, the show will explore dancehall culture, Black style, and the tension between photography and memory, featuring “newly digitised photos given to him from his family’s atelier, OUCH, which outfitted Jamaica's dancehall queens in custom club couture,” reads a release.

The show will also see the debut of a series of large-scale sculptures made from the fragments of structures that have been knocked down in the Kingston neighbourhood he grew up in, as well as a multichannel video installation cut from hundreds of hours of archival footage. “My youth in Kingston shaped the core of who I am now,” says Akeem, “and I want to bring these particles from my past into the future to give them new meaning and purpose today.”

He remains cryptic on what exactly lies in store, though fans of Akeem’s work as a stylist and a designer should expect the unexpected. “I’ve taken a totally different approach," he adds. "I’ve found there are a lot of limitations with styling and designing, but when creating what I would consider a sculpture, there is much more freedom.”

There’s even more good news for those based beyond the East Coast -- after its summer run in New York, the exhibition will then travel to Red Bull Arts space in Detroit, opening in the autumn.

'Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test' will open at Red Bull Arts New York on April 9.

Red Bull Arts
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