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We live in Seattle, so we know what it means to live by the sea.
A quick walk through Pike Place Market serves seaside treats like octopus arms and clam meat. When looking at these dead and delicious things, we might have an image of the fisherman who grabbed them: a gruff, old, white dude. But in her new show at the Henry Art Gallery, Fishing Was His Life, artist Nina Chanel Abney complicates the stereotypical image of a fisherman. Instead, she centers on the history of Black fishermen, inspired by legendary photographer Gordon Parks’ early-1940s series on the Atlantic Coast fishing industry.
“Fishing has deep roots in the Black community,” Abney says in her artist statement for the show. “Yet the voices of Black fishermen are vastly underrepresented and their businesses in decline.” In Fishing Was His Life, Abney brings this community to the forefront in her signature colorful collage paintings. She shows Black fishermen hawking their enormous catches at the market, getting knee-deep in dark waters with their fishing nets, and moving crates of lobsters and crabs at a stall. Abney’s style is reminiscent of painter Jacob Lawrence’s—there’s so much life in her collages that they nearly hop off the walls.
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📸: Nina Chanel Abney, Pace Prints