Ilana Harris-Babou: Revelations

September 17—December 3, 2022

Click here to take a virtual guided tour of Ilana Harris-Babou: Revelations, available in English and Spanish.

Ilana Harris-Babou’s solo exhibition Revelations presents recent video installations, collages, and ceramics navigating contradictory desires bound within our all-consuming image culture. Using the aesthetics of advertising and social media DIY influencing within wellness culture, Harris-Babou’s works stage darkly humorous and subversive revelations about material quick fixes for structural inequities. Rather than offering a critique of biblical proportions, Harris-Babou’s works disclose Black self-determinations. 

In the video installation Decision Fatigue (2020), Harris-Babou’s mother Sheila Harris peddles Amazonian soap, waxing poetic about its healing properties. Installed with unusable ceramic vials of Cheeto serums, jade rollers, and crystals on provisional wooden plinths, the installation exposes our entangled complicity and ecstasy within neoliberal structures designed to exploit our resources and time. Likewise, the artist’s parodically enthusiastic voiceover guides viewers in the video Human Design (2019) through Restoration Hardware-esque designs replete with colonial appropriations of the creative innovations of communities from the Global South. And Harris-Babou’s collages depict white sanitized visions of idealistic home décor, medicinal accoutrement, and modernist architecture. Such works ultimately reveal how unwitting subscriptions to the mechanisms of capitalism lead to both ecstasy and exploitation, challenging viewers to consider how we might instead turn to revelatory critique and collective knowledge-building.

The video installation Leaf of Life (2021/2022), articulates such a complex revelation through the figure of Dr. Sebi. Harris-Babou’s latest work features a video installation and  wallpaper lush with fruits and vegetables. The artist’s persona voices over appropriated footage of Black vegan author Rachel Ama’s cooking experience, inflecting both dogmatism and hope into the mediated concoction. Found footage and Harris-Babou’s narration concerning “diet guru” Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food system—popularized in the 1980s, and which still circulates today within Black communities—joins footage with the artist’s sister, who once worked as a medical administrator and shares concern over health misinformation and harm inflicted on her community. Harris-Babou’s stratified depiction centers Sebi as a complicated figure, whose “contradictory systems of belief address a very real history of exploitation.” Ultimately, the video installation carefully peels away both the band-aid solutions of compounded exploitative industries and individualism in layered revelations. 

Ilana Harris-Babou: Revelations is accompanied by a free public programming series. For more information about programming, see our calendar at The exhibition is also accompanied by a catalog featuring new scholarship from Re’al Christian, Laurel V. McLaughlin, Yasmina Price, and Wendy Vogel (forthcoming in February 2023).

Ilana Harris-Babou: Revelations is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, CT Humanities, and the New England Foundation for the Arts. The exhibition is organized by Artspace Director Curatorial Affairs, Laurel V. McLaughlin in dialogue with the artist.