David Alekhuogie is an artist, but he’s skeptical of what that means. “I might have joined a pyramid scheme," he remarks, "I’ll know for sure on my deathbed.”
A current BOLT artist in residency at the Chicago Artist Coalition, he’s in the midst of his solo exhibition, "A Thin Blue Line." As he sits surrounded by his work, explaining how conflict plays into what he creates, he questions everything. Considering his background and training—he’s a 2015 MFA graduate from Yale School of Art and a 2013 BFA graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—it’s only fitting.
Alekhuogie’s career began in a photo chemistry class at the University of California at Berkeley while he was pursuing a social science degree. Shooting exclusively on film, Alekhuogie developed a love for the analog, or as he puts it, “I became obsessed with process and craft.” Influenced by a background in sociology and ethnomusicology he began using photography as a means to involve himself in California's hip-hop scene in 2007, inadvertently studying the parallels between music and the social climate.
“Around the time I started making images it seemed like Los Angeles was having a moment in terms of a more contemporary and abstract form of hip-hop," he says. "I wanted to immerse myself in that community, I wanted to photograph everything, and that’s where photography came into play.”
Photograph: David Alekhuogie
As he walks through his studio space at the CAC, it’s clear that Alekhuogie’s work has moved away from the straightforward documentation of his early photographs. His practice now engages other mediums, incorporating both painting and sculpture while maintaining roots in photography. The materials being used range from old vinyl album covers to Nike shoe boxes, each representations of something larger. Although the subjects have changed and his concerns have morphed, the approach is still very much situated in those early days. “Now that I work with all these different mediums and materials, it just seems like a hip-hop strategy. Even the more abstract work is based off that early experience.”
Photograph: David Alekhuogie
While Alekhuogie's art continues to evolve, the emphasis on dissonance is constant. There's a tension present in his "Baptism" series, a closer look at the ideology behind a pilgrimage, and his more abstract work, "Negative Positive," which examines commercial fetishism.
“You can’t really begin to tell the truth until you find yourself in question,” he says. Perhaps that’s why the work he creates is so accessible and profound. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers—he merely aims to have a good argument about the facts. “I think it’s way more interesting to sell people something and then make them a little bit skeptical of that thing," he remarks. "People should be skeptical. People should be curious about everything they are doing and all the decisions that they are making at any given moment.”
Alekhuogie definitely questions, whether it's the humanist at odds with religion in the "Baptism" series or the kid who desires Nikes at war with the culture of commercialism in "Negative Positive." Each of his works functions as an eloquent argument that has pushed and tested the limitations of itself.
"For better or worse, I definitely think that all of my work is about conflict. It’s about historical, creative and political conflict. The work I make often comes from opposing points of view within myself and settles somewhere in the middle.” He pauses and reconsiders his statement. “Maybe it doesn’t even settle.”
"A Thin Blue Line" is currently on display at the Chicago Artist Coalition until February 25.