Demetri Broxton

Work

Demetri Broxton /  Installation View

Demetri Broxton / The Power / 2018 / mixed media assemblage

Demetri Broxton / The Power / 2018 / mixed media assemblage

Demetri Broxton / Still Nigga/ 2018 / mixed media assemblage

Still Nigga is inspired by Jay-Z’s track, The Story of O.J., from his 4:44 album. One of Jay-Z’s lines is “…faux nigga, real nigga… still nigga.” The track tackles what it means to be a Black man in America and the legacy of racism that refuses to fade into the past, no matter how far we may think we have progressed. By placing the words “Faux Nigga” and “Real Nigga” on boxing gloves, I hope to bring the viewer’s attention to the historical and contemporary context of not only the N-word, but the idea of what constitutes a real nigga versus a fake one.

The N-word is one of the most contested and derogatory words in the English language, particularly within the context of the United States. It has connotations associated with the violence of slavery, racism, and segregation, but it is also ubiquitous within hip hop culture, where it can sometimes mean ‘friend’. The term ‘real nigga’ appears as the title of dozens of hip-hop songs and the meaning is both contradictory and widely understood within the hip-hop and African American community at large. A real nigga is sometimes the archetypical ghetto caricature of the violent thug, drug dealer, and someone who always ‘keeps it real’. Other times a real nigga is a Black man that takes care of his responsibilities and is committed to his people. Real nigga also carries the weight of hypermasculinity – a legacy forced upon Black men since legalized slavery in the United States and still present to this day. Nowhere is this hypermasculinity, which dictates that Black men must not be sensitive or in touch with their feelings, more prevalent than within hip hop culture.

The black boxing gloves serve as a stand-in for the Black male body. Hand embroidered with black and 24K gold Japanese seed beads and red Czech seed beads, each piece is immediately in conflict with the terms written on them. Each glove is pierced with hundreds of gold-toned nails, bringing each glove to about 11 pounds in total weight. The nails are inspired by nkisi nkondi sculptures from the Kongo kingdom. Nkisi nkondi are vessels for sacred medicine and divine protection central to the belief of the Kongo people of Central Africa – one of the ancestral origins for a large number of enslaved Africans brought to the United States via the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

BIO

Demeti Broxton’s textile sculptures reflect his connection to the sacred art of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, the beading traditions of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians, and his love of hip hop and graffiti. He understands his work as an ongoing investigation of cultural continuities from Africa to America and is particularly interested in how these ancient cultural forms find their way into mainstream culture. Thus, elements of Nigerian royal regalia, sports equipment with significant ties to African American history, Southern voodoo/hoodoo traditions, and quotes from hip-hop artists are seamlessly blended with beaded patchwork employing the same techniques used by the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians.

On view are boxing gloves and robe, hand-embroidered with beads, using a backstitch, an adaptation of Yoruba beading traditions and Native American beading techniques. He also weaves in objects of power and protection, such as High John the Conqueror root, a staple in American Hoodoo traditions and other hidden talismans. Broxton’s work connects contemporary hip-hop artists to the tradition of the Oba, where lyrical quotes and personas embody superhuman power and even some, like Pusha T, who call themselves gods.

In the Yoruba and New Orleans tradition, men are the creators of beaded regalia; however, this is not the case in mainstream American culture where beading and weaving techniques are often seen as women’s work. Broxton’s mash up of bead weaving, which quotes hypermasculine phrases from hip-hop songs, creates an intentional tension and contrast between delicate and powerful, beautiful and dark, masculine and feminine. The use of cowrie shells adds an additional layer of complexity to the underlying ideas in Broxton’s work. Cowrie shell sculptures in the Yoruba tradition are called Ilé Ori or House of the Head Shrines. Ilé Ori are shrines to a person’s spiritual essence; protected by a shield of cowrie shells. During the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, human beings were purchased with cowrie shells brought by Portuguese slave ships. In some cases, owning an Ilé Ori could protect a wealthy Yoruba person from being sold into slavery. This juxtaposition of beauty, pain, power, and influence can be seen throughout Broxton’s series; as the shells in Broxton’s artwork represent the violence and wealth of the slave trading economy – a heritage that continues in sports and hip-hop lyrics.

Demetri Broxton is a mixed media artist of Louisiana Creole and Filipino heritage. He was born and raised in Oakland, CA and earned a BFA with an emphasis in oil painting at UC Berkeley in 2002. Demetri is influenced by craft and folk traditions and is passionate about infusing these traditions into fine art.