Germane Barnes Explores Black Identity in "Unsettled" at Nina Johnson Gallery

Germane Barnes, That’s Not the Right Size, 2022
Germane Barnes, That’s Not the Right Size, 2022 Photo by Greg Carideo
As a Black man, architect Germane Barnes values African migration because it is the essence of his ancestors, he says. In an exhibition of his work, "Germane Barnes: Unsettled" at Nina Johnson gallery, he explores both memory and identity related to these values.

"Their migration was forced through enslavement while mine is free and a direct result of their sacrifices," says Barnes. He speaks of "processes and culture" and of working in a field that "often ignores the African continent in favor of Eurocentric design ideologies."

The specific body of work is a result of the artist's recent time in Italy as a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, where he researched and explored North African influences of classical architecture and design.

The artwork is "Unsettled" because Barnes is an ever-evolving designer who continues to explore and learn more about his ancestry. "It's also representative of how Black people across the globe are often not allowed to settle anywhere outside of the African continent. Anger, resentment, and xenophobia are especially audible towards Blackness everywhere," he says.

He's also exploring the influence of built environments on Black domesticity. His history and global history heavily influence his practice, and he believes architecture can be used to tell stories that are otherwise left behind.
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Architect and designer Germane Barnes explores the connection between race and structures at Nina Johnson.
Photo by Greg Carideo
In addition to exploring migration from an African perspective, Barnes' exhibition also relates his personal journey from Chicago to Cape Town, then Los Angeles to Miami.

"I am a Chicago-born designer whose parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents, are descendants of enslavement. And through their bravery and triumphs, I have been given tremendous privilege. They found their way to Chicago through the Great Migration, and I use architecture to tell their brilliant stories of perseverance," explains Barnes, who is an assistant professor and the director of the Community Housing & Identity Lab (CHIL) at the University of Miami School of Architecture.

In 2021, he received the Rome Prize for Architecture from the American Academy in Rome, which is given to support innovative and cross-disciplinary work. He recently was awarded the 2022 Miami Design District Annual Neighborhood Commission for his multi-scale installation "Rock | Roll," which will be displayed in November. The series of seating capsules, which are meant to be activated by passersby in the public spaces of the Miami Design District, is rendered in vibrant colors. An architectural-style dome is suspended overhead as part of the installation.

Architecture is the artist's way of expressing himself, of telling stories through tectonics or rituals of space. His mission is to make architecture a griot, an orator of stories. Barnes, as an architect, also investigates the relationship between identity and architecture in his research and design practice.

"I loosely associate my work and process with anthropology in that I am more interested in the ways we use space and manipulate the intentions of the architect than the physical space of architecture. I find a greater connection between the user and their culture in that process. I attempt to design in such a way that blends culture and history," he says.
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Germane Barnes' Aubusson tapestry in New Zealand wool
Photo by Greg Carideo

The work in "Unsettled" includes two tapestries, furniture that uses materials that reference migration, and five two-dimensional works. The purpose of the project was to reintroduce the art of hand-woven tapestries in contemporary design by using rigorous traditional techniques and premium materials with stellar workmanship. The featured tapestries are maps that highlight redlining and segregation.

Throughout "Unsettled," Barnes examines Black migration within and outside of the continental United States while blurring the lines between design and architecture.

"We have long championed the overlap and intersection of art and design, finding Germane who is a pioneer in this space, particularly as it relates to histories of the African Diaspora within the United States," says Johnson, whose gallery in Little Haiti is presenting the exhibition.

"Knowing he was living in Miami made me certain we would have much to work on together. Since then, the world has taken notice with so many accolades. I am thrilled we have the excuse to share his work with his hometown," says Johnson.

– Jonel Juste,

"Germane Barnes: Unsettled." 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through November 19, at Nina Johnson, 6315 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-571- 2288; Admission is free.
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