Freestyling Animals and Signifying Rappers / Hyperallergic

Ray Anthony Barrett, “While Jungle Bunnies Hip-Hop the Doom Broom” from Porch Monkeys (2014)

Ray Anthony Barrett, “While Jungle Bunnies Hip-Hop the Doom Broom” from Porch Monkeys (2014). Image courtesy of the artist and Diane Rosenstein Fine Arts.

LOS ANGELES — Behind every face there is a mask. In Ray Anthony Barrett’s solo exhibition Word is Bond at Diane Rosenstein Fine Arts in Hollywood, the artist investigates American cultural identities through the use of anthropomorphized masks. Dividing up the four walls of the gallery’s project room, Barrett considers the masked identities of sexualities, the redundancy and spectacle of American mass media’s 24-hour infotainment cycle, and contemporary iterations of Manifest Destiny as embodied through consumer culture’s commodification of native figures like Crazy Horse and other American Spirits and “spirits.”

Barrett also wades into the billowing paradoxes of ’90s hip-hop culture, playing with words much like rappers themselves. In the centerpiece of his exhibition, “Porchmonkey Pawns for Manicured Lawns Jockey For Position Without Inquisition (Battle Chess), (from Porch Monkeys)” (2014), an arrangement of figures that Barrett has named with the slur “porchmonkeys” line the squares of a giant chessboard, squaring off, arranged as they would stand on a basketball court or in a nightclub. Wearing shades, they stand with an unflinching gaze, watching one of their own get beaten with a golf club, a symbol of wealth and power. Barrett’s careful cursive above the chessboard brings it together with dry wit: “Get your club on,” he writes, as if egging the viewer on to further question the characters’ motives. The viewer just gazes intently, wondering who will take the crown.

Hyperallergic got in touch with Barrett to learn more about his nuanced social commentary and the way masks function in the contemporary mythologies that he creates by putting pen to paper, both lyrically and figuratively.

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Read my interview with Mr. Barrett here: