THE POWERFUL CERAMIC SCULPTURES of Akinsanya Kambon (aka Mark Teemer) are embedded with history, identity, and ancient techniques with spiritual vibes. An extensive selection of his works is on view “American Expressions/African Roots: Akinsanya Kambon’s Ceramic Sculpture,” at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

Kambon has traveled to Africa 14 times, conducting research and spending extensive periods in Mali and Sierra Leone. The Yoruba of Nigeria gave him his name. The artist’s experiences on the continent are reflected in figurative works distinguished by the metallic luster of their glazed surfaces. The sculptures take the form of African deities and historic and religious figures produced using raku, a firing technique with Japanese roots. Kambon practices a Western-style of the process.

In a conversation with Crocker assistant curator Christie Hajela, Kambon said he does an initial firing and then paints the sculpture with different color glazes and fires it again. “Usually when you do a raku firing, you have a lot of people all firing your piece. And the way we do it, sometimes we have women and they’re dancing and drummers are drumming and women are dancing and you can feel the spirit in the air of what’s taking place with this whole raku process,” he said.

“Then, everybody backs up and you open the kiln and you start taking the pieces out and putting them in the smoking can and the smoke mixes with the glazes and causes some type of chemical reaction and that’s what gives you all the metallic lusters. I like to use eucalyptus leaves, sawdust, newspaper, hay, all of these different combustibles. The more of them you put in, you never know what you’re going to get.”

“Sometimes we have women and they’re dancing and drummers are drumming and women are dancing and you can feel the spirit in the air of what’s taking place with this whole raku process.” — Akinsanya Kambon


Artist Akinsanya Kambon in conversation with Crocker Art Gallery assistant curator Christie Hajela about his work and exhibition “American Expressions/African Roots: Akinsanya Kambon’s Ceramic Sculpture.” | Video by Crocker Art Museum

 

KAMBON SPLITS HIS TIME between Sacramento, Calif., where he was born and grew up, and Long Beach, where he was a professor for 26 years at California State University, Long Beach. He grew up in Del Paso Heights and studied at Sacramento City College, where he was first introduced to the raku technique.

A former U.S. Marine, Kambon served in Vietnam. Back stateside, he served as lieutenant of culture for the Sacramento chapter of the Black Panther Party. He is represented in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where his “The Black Panther Coloring Book” (1968) was acquired in 2019.

He’s never had a solo museum show, though. Kambon told the Sacramento Observer, the city’s longstanding black-owned newspaper, he almost had an exhibition at the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles in 2002. The opportunity faded, he said, when artist John T. Riddle Jr., died. Riddle was CAAM’s program manager for visual art at the time.

“I was thinking I wasn’t going to ever get an exhibit in a museum after he died. I figured all my chances were gone,” Kambon told the Observer.

Two decades later, the Crocker presentation is his first solo museum exhibition and the venue is fitting. Kambon says he is “comfortable” at the Crocker Art Museum. The oldest public museum west of the Mississippi River, the instition was founded in 1885. The artist “feels at home” at the museum because one of the founders, Judge E.B. Crocker (1818-1875), was involved with abolitionist activities before he moved to California, where he served on the state supreme court.

Kambon says he went to Lincoln Junior High School (which was on P Street in downtown Sacramento at the time) across from the Crocker and when he ventured into the museum as a young student it was his first encounter with art. He was mesmerized. “I’d never seen a museum,” he said. “I’d never heard of a museum.” CT

 

“American Expressions/African Roots: Akinsanya Kambon’s Ceramic Sculpture” is on view at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif., Feb. 2-Sept. 13, 2020. The museum is temporarily closed. Check directly with the institution for updated scheduling.

 

FIND MORE about Akinsanya Kambon on his website

FIND MORE about a recent exhibition inspired by John T. Riddle Jr.here and here

 


AKINSANYA KAMBON (American, born 1946), “Nehanda,” 2013 (Raku-fired clay, approx. 18 1/2 x 9 inches). | Collection of S. Tama-sha Ross Kambon and Akinsanya D. Kambon aka Mark Teemer

 


AKINSANYA KAMBON (American, b. 1946), “Contradictions,” 2016 (Raku – fired clay, approx. 50 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches). | Collection of S. Tama – sha Ross Kambon and Akinsanya D. Kambon aka Mark Teemer

 


From left, Installation view of AKINSANYA KAMBON, “John Randall, Buffalo Soldier,” n.d., and “Equestrian Black Sampson,” 2012. | Courtesy Crocker Gallery of Art

 


AKINSANYA KAMBON (American, born 1946), “John Randall, Buffalo Soldier,” n.d. (Raku-fired clay, 15 1/2 x 4 x 9 1/2 inches). | Collection of S. Tama-sha Ross Kambon and Akinsanya D. Kambon aka Mark Teemer

 


AKINSANYA KAMBON (American, born 1946), “Shango III,” 2012 (Raku-fired clay, approx. 23 1/2 x 10 inches). | Collection of S. Tama-sha Ross Kambon and Akinsanya D. Kambon aka Mark Teemer

 


AKINSANYA KAMBON (American, born 1946), “The Greatest Shame,” 2016 (Raku-fired clay, approx. 34 1/2 x 43 inches (circ.). | Collection of S. Tama-sha Ross Kambon and Akinsanya D. Kambon aka Mark Teemer

 


AKINSANYA KAMBON (American, born 1946), “The Royal Embrace,” 2013 (Raku-fired clay, approx. 17 3/4 x 11 inches). | Collection of S. Tama-sha Ross Kambon and Akinsanya D. Kambon aka Mark Teemer

 


AKINSANYA KAMBON (American, b. 1946), “Equestrian Black Sampson,” 2012 (Raku-fired clay, 16 1/2 x 5 1/4 x 10 inches). | Crocker Art Museum, Gift of S. Tama-sha Ross Kambon and Akinsanya D. Kambon aka Mark Teemer, 2018.5

 


Local NBC news station reports on the exhibition “American Expressions/African Roots: Akinsanya Kambon’s Ceramic Sculpture” and talks with the artist about his work and the arc of his life. | Video by KCRA

 

(Click twice to start video, there is a slight delay) A look at the exhibition “American Expressions/African Roots: Akinsanya Kambon’s Ceramic Sculpture” at the Crocker Art Museum with the curator and artist, who is also seen in his studio where he speaks at length about the origins and inspiration for his art, as well as his background with the Black Panther Party. | Video by The Sacramento Bee

 

BOOKSHELF
Recently published volumes include “Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers” by Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale with photographs by Stephen Shames. “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas” documents the work of the party’s minister of culture and artistic director of its newspaper.

 

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