Arts·Q&A

What is the future of Blackness? Yung Yemi on his original artwork for 21 Black Futures

Part one of the new anthology series arrives next Friday on CBC Gem.

Part one of the new anthology series arrives next Friday on CBC Gem

Design by Yung Yemi. (Yung Yemi)

Every month, we feature a new take on the CBC Arts logo created by a Canadian artist. Check out our previous logos!

In the making of 21 Black Futures, an all-new anthology series coming to CBC Arts, the project's creative team considered one question when producing their original scripts. That prompt? "What is the future of Blackness?" 

It's a subject that's fuelled Yung Yemi's creative output for years. "I would describe my work first and foremost as Afrofuturism and Pan-Africanism," says the Toronto-based artist, a.k.a. Adeyemi Adegbesan. And he's become increasingly known for his mixed-media portraits, images you're as likely to discover in a gallery as Graffiti Alley — or an Usher video

The artist was commissioned to create an original work for 21 Black Futures, an all-new portrait that's simply titled Black Future. And he incorporated the piece in this version of the CBC logo. We'll be highlighting it on all our social accounts through February, and below, he offers some insight on how the plays featured on the program informed the design.

Presented by CBC Arts in partnership with Obsidian Theatre Company, 21 Black Futures has assembled an all-star roster of Canadian playwrights, directors and performers, all led by Obsidian's artistic director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu. Rolled out over three consecutive Fridays, the first round of shows premieres Friday, Feb. 12 on CBC Gem. 

Yung Yemi works on a mural. In Toronto? Find it on Dundas West. (@yung.yemi/Instagram)

Name: Adeyemi Adegbesan

Homebase: Kensington Market, Toronto

Let's talk about this piece! The figure in the centre was created for 21 Black Futures, right? How did that project inform your design?

I worked closely with the festival's art director Chinedu Ukabam to integrate some of the themes and symbols from plays in this year's festival into the final piece.

Who is this a picture of? Do they represent someone, or a particular character?

It's actually the opposite. The art direction was to create a figure that was as ambiguous as possible in terms of gender and identity. So ideally it can speak to the range of experiences covered in 21 Black Futures.

The detail is fantastic. Is it symbolic in any way? Any references you can share?

Absolutely. For instance, the obsidian protruding from the figure's head is a direct homage to Obsidian Theatre Company. The Adinkra symbol hanging from their right ear is the hye won hye, which translates to imperishability or "that which does not burn," and the thinking behind that was to highlight the strength and perseverance of Black culture. And if you look at the adornment on the neck, there are a bunch of airport codes from around the world which speaks to the spread of the African diaspora and the cultural impact its had around the world.

Yung Yemi. "When the Fam Lose Faith, Hold Them Up." (@yung.yemi/Instagram)

What's the project you're most proud of?

I'm really proud of the exhibition I did last year at Harbourfront Centre called Ascension Tech. It really gave me a chance to combine a lot of different facets of my art practice in a cohesive way and it's a body of work I'm looking forward to expanding on.

What's your favourite place to see art?

I would have to say outside. Whenever I travel I try to visit as many galleries and art museums as I can, but there is just something special about finding great street art, so that has always stood out to me the most. I guess it's partially the excitement that comes with discovery, and then also the freedom and lack of censorship that really speaks to me.

Kensington Market paste up by Yung Yemi. (@yung.yemi/Instagram)

Who's the last artist you discovered online?

Lately I've really been into the work of D'Andra M (@bloomhairart). She's a hair artist based in Toronto. I like seeing artists work in non-traditional media, and hair is one of those things that you're probably not gonna see on a curriculum at an art school or at a big gallery, but it's so important to Black people and integral to the culture.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

I would love to own an original painting by Wangechi Mutu. That's the first artist whose work I remember really falling in love with.

What's next for you? Any projects on deck that you can tease?

I'm working on a new body of artwork right now. It will be in line with what I've done over the past couple of years but an extension of that. I will probably do an exhibition later in the year but it's hard to say exactly when because everything is still locked down. But as soon as things start to open up I'll be able to start putting that together in a physical space.

Where can we see more from you?

The best place right now is just to follow me on social media (@yung.yemi) and when things start to open back up I will keep everyone updated on what and where my work will be next.

Art by Yung Yemi. (@yung.yemi/Instagram)

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