Akea Brionne is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher whose work explores the relationship between post-colonial creole identity and social geography. Brionne currently splits her time between Detroit, Michigan, and Baltimore, Maryland, but was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She uses her practice to manufacture threads between folklore and visual culture. Brionne’s work is visual storytelling that echoes her location currently and throughout time. Every place that we have traveled and moved through makes an invisible mark on our existence, and artists are skilled at translating those experiences for us in the form of artwork.

Akea Brionne, Kitchen Table, 2023. On view at CPM Gallery. Image courtesy of CPM Gallery.

Janus is Brionne’s first solo exhibition at CPM Gallery in Bolton Hill. It is a bountiful show — ripe with references to her family’s archive, art history, and technology. In the age of ChatGPT, and rumbling discourse about whether art can be made absent a human element, Janus is an extremely timely material study about artificial techonlogy for artists. Brionne blurs the lines between maker and method with Janus, offering renditions, reincarnations, reinterpretations, and visual remixes that have been rendered with and in the artist’s image using various materials. In Janus she has integrated AI in a way that challenges the aversion to the use of artificial intelligence as an artistic medium, but also makes real the fact that without her hand, without her lived experience and migratory patterns, this resulting body of work would not be possible.

In Roman mythology, Janus, usually depicted as having two faces, is a symbol of transitions, doors, and dualities. Janus rules over opposites: beginnings and endings; life and death; light and dark. With this exhibition, the artist explores the duality between artist and representation.

Installation view of Akea Brionne’s Janus at CPM Gallery. Image courtesy of CPM Gallery.

The most prominent wall of the gallery features five large self-portraits. Brionne created the works by taking photographs of herself, which she then distorted. She designed an AI algorithm and fueled it with descriptions of herself. According to the curatorial statement, in this process, she was “searching for the ‘right words… to describe herself as a person, an Afro-Creole woman, and an artist in the world.” The images include figures that seem so vastly different than they appear to be different characters. I asked Brionne to identify one of the figures in the background of the painting. She told me it was a representation of herself, pulled from her AI-infused method, that she had digitally printed onto jacquard fabric and then later embellished with material such as stones, faux fur, and beads. 

Akea Brionne, Grounded # 1, 2023. On view at CPM Gallery. Image courtesy of CPM Gallery.

In Timekeeper (2023), a woman is depicted sitting at a kitchen table. The left half of the image is distorted and wavy, and half of her face melts into this visual wave. She rests a hand on her chin, but because of the distortion, you notice that the location of the artist’s arms is disrupted, out of time, place, and natural order. Behind the figure is a functional clock, keeping time in this real realm while this representation of Brown is on display in the gallery. The color palette is muted, which adds to the surreal nature of Timekeeper

In The Dancers (2023), a spinning mobile rotates in the rear corner of the gallery. Each of the life-size figures are avatars of the artist, and are quilted from fabric featuring AI-manipulated imagery. They are holding hands, spinning around an aluminum frame. The sculptural nature of The Dancers invigorates an already invigorating show with its motion, and ties another thread to the past — The Dancers is a reference to Henri Matisse’s The Dance (1910). Another wall in CPM features a display of six fur-lined artworks that feature florals, glitter, and jacquard. These flowers call to the flowers in the background of the other self portraits on display, and “pose the potency of flowers in medicine and mind-altering hallucinogenic experiences against AI’s distortions of reality and personhood.” 

Akea Brionne, The Dancers, 2023 (spinning mobile). Image courtesy of CPM Gallery.

Akea Brionne’s Janus is on view at CPM Gallery in Bolton Hill, 1512 Bolton Street, Baltimore, MD 21217 through July 31, 2023. Email info@cpmprogram.com to set up an appointment. 

Teri Henderson is the Arts and Culture Editor of Baltimore Beat. She is the author of the 2021 book Black Collagists. Previously, she was a staff writer for BmoreArt, gallery coordinator for Connect +...