The Black Experience Behind Kevin Beasley’s NBA Jerseys

July 27, 2020

Alongside the coronavirus pandemic, the social and political turmoil is happening almost everywhere around the globe as we speak. The American context is saturated with an unprecedented atmosphere of racial tensions as the aftermath of the Black Lives Matters protests are taking place all over the country, as a long-awaited reaction to the colonial legacy and the 20th-century legislative mechanisms of segregation and violence pointed towards African Americans.

To follow this wave of changes numerous museums and galleries organized exhibitions that aim to reflect upon the Black experience explored through different artistic approaches. A good example is a sculpture based practice of mid-generation artist Kevin Beasley who examines various social models affiliated with the Black community by collaging everyday memorabilia with sound and performativity.

In 2017, Beasley showed a series of artworks based on basketball jerseys within a solo exhibition titled Sport/Utility at Casey Kaplan Gallery to examine the socio-political symbolism behind these sports outfits and underline the mechanisms of institutional control. Currently, in the gallery’s viewing room is a re-staged online edition of the show from three years ago that seems more than fitting in regards to the aforementioned context.

Left: Kevin Beasley - Curry, 2017. Polyurethane resin, wood, acoustic foam, NBA Jerseys, 87 x 66 x 5" / Right: Kevin Beasley - Green, 2017. Polyurethane resin, wood, acoustic foam, NBA Jerseys 87 x 66 x 5" / 220.98 x 167.64 x 12.7cm

All About The Word/Fair Play

For this series of assemblages, Kevin Beasley soaked jerseys worn by NBA superstars in resin and positioned them in tiled compositions of bold colors and the surnames (printed on the backs of jerseys). The players are deployed of their physicality and so their signature outfits become signifiers of a collective experience where wishes, hopes, and dreams become projected.

Through a subtle, yet overwhelming flux of repetitions, Beasley examines sports culture to speak about the matters of race, power, exploration, and violence.

Left: Kevin Beasley - Rose, 2017. Polyurethane resin, wood, acoustic foam, NBA Jerseys, 87 x 66 x 5 / Right: Kevin Beasley - Harden, 2017. Polyurethane resin, wood, acoustic foam, NBA Jerseys 87 x 66 x 5" / 220.98 x 167.64 x 12.7cm

The Works

One of the artworks on view, titled ROSE and based on the jersey of former New York Knicks, Derrick Rose, was printed in white lettering above an orange number 25. By connecting the usual connotation the roses as flowers bring with the symbol of the color red, Beasley creates a powerful, subversive political commentary (the red rose has become a symbol of socialism, and the floral emblem of the U.S.), while refereeing to mythology and Umberto Eco’s 1983 novel The Name of the Rose.

On the other hand, with HARDEN, based on the blood-red jersey of NBA superstar James Harden of the Houston Rockets, the artist refers to the very notion of the word "harden" to indicate a disposition, a feeling of becoming more severe, determined or unpleasant, as well as to underline that to be hardened is to be less sympathetic.

Installation view: Kevin Beasley, Sport/Utility, Casey Kaplan, New York, May 2 - June 17, 2017

Kevin Beasley's NBA Jerseys Online

Although three years have passed, Kevin Beasley still articulates his artistic practice on the same trail by examining the repetition of the perception of the black bodies, and the common preconceptions that are on a loop. Governed by the belief that the suppression is a method of manufacture, the artist dissects how the black experiences and black bodies become instrumentalized and deployed of African origin in the never-ending swirl of commodification.

Kevin Beasley: Acoustic Panels is accessible online via the Casey Kaplan Gallery website.

Featured image: Installation view: Kevin Beasley, Sport/Utility, Casey Kaplan, New York, May 2 - June 17, 2017.

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