In SKIN OF THE THUG, Kennedy builds on the ambiguous chronology of the imagined post-apocalyptic society which has permeated his work by introducing a historical event which he refers to as The Great Negro Wars. The exhibition presents faux relics from this fictional epoch in the form of ‘Thuggernauts’ and is presented as a sort of museological social history exhibit. SKIN OF THE THUG showcases decorated pieces of Thuggernaught skin as well as a ‘rare’ complete taxidermied Thuggernaut head (“still containing remnants of his delusions of grandeur,” the artist notes).
Located at the intersection of science fiction tropes, pervasive oppressive history and internalised subliminal narratives, Kennedy’s Thuggernaut artefacts bitingly satirise the ways in which the term ‘Thug’ functions as a catch-all for young black youth in racist media narratives. By the same token, the exhibition turns a critical eye to the problematics of self-image which result from the psychological conditioning of these narratives. For the artist, the Thuggernauts represent a physical manifestation of self-genocide and voluntary subjugation.
Elaborating on their metaphorical role within the ongoing trans-media narrative of his work, Kennedy suggests that “Whomever created the Thuggernauts, whenever they were made, was of the idea that to destroy a community it must be destroyed from within So they created the Thug, taking fetuses from the community, gestating them into metal pachydermic shells, educating them in the post-colonial pyramid scheme of racial hierarchy and then letting them loose to roam the urban landscape dishing out death, self-genocide and general sociopathic behaviour.”
While the technology outlined in the displayed blueprints and user manual point to a future time to our own, Kennedy astutely incorporates a number of signifiers which root the social allegory into the complex bifurcation of the term in the present and recent past. The Thuggernaut head is inscribed with references to ‘Project SUPERPREDATOR’ and bears the logos of DOW, Du Pont, the National Rifle Association and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 US Presidential election campaign (who famously used the term ‘superpredators’ in a 1996 speech in New Hampshire in support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act). Centred on issues of power, control and privilege, SKIN OF THE THUG scrutinises the complex conflation of capital, racist media tropes and institutional and societal violence through the lens of cyborg annihilation.
A Columbia University MFA graduate, industrial conceptual designer and 2011 Skowhegan Fellow, Coby Kennedy has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and abroad including Japan South Africa and Europe. He has received the Civil Society Institute Fellowship, the One World Award, as well as International Quorum of Motion Picture Producers, Zurich Switzerland and the Gold Camera Award, US International Film & Video Festival for his collaborative film works. A Pratt Institute Industrial Design undergraduate, his fine art and design work has been showcased and reviewed in publications including The New York Times, Italy’s La Repubblica, Hyperallergic and Japan’s Car Styling Magazine. Recent creative collaborations have included Kohler, Honda, Sony Japan and Italy’s Ferrari S.p.A. Coby Kennedy lives and works in New York and is currently in residence at the MOMO Artist Residency in Johannesburg.