Ilana Harris-Babou: Revelations

September 17—December 3, 2022

Ilana Harris-Babou’s solo exhibition Revelations presents recent video installation, collage, and sculpture 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 (2018) 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 (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. Her narration concerning “diet guru” “Dr.” Sebi’s Cell Food system—a gimmick popularized in the 1980s, and which still circulates today within Black communities—meets actual footage with the artist’s sister, who once worked as a medical administrator and shares concern over the misinformation and harm inflicted on her community through this system. But 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 for collective trauma in layered revelations. 

Ilana Harris-Babou: Revelations is accompanied by programs within Artspace New Haven’s larger series expanding, which examines and explores the themes in our exhibitions. For more information, see our calendar at The exhibition is also accompanied by a catalog featuring new scholarship, and an interview with the artist.

Ilana Harris-Babou: Revelations is supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation, CT Humanities, Mellon Foundation, and VIA Art Fund. The exhibition is organized by Artspace Director Curatorial Affairs, Laurel V. McLaughlin in dialogue with the artists.