Gates’s practice poses nuanced questions about cultural production as a means to foreground a new type of cultural hybridity. In this exhibition, two key strands of his work – Japanese philosophy and Black identity – combine to forge a new aesthetic; one that attempts to retrace cultural roots that are often submerged and forgotten within the structure of what Gates terms ‘Western-White sameness’.
The title of the exhibition deliberately blurs and brings together distinct cultural identities, each with their own rich history of aesthetics. The term ‘Afro’ refers to both African-American culture as well as to its iconic hairstyle, re-appropriated during the 1960s and 1970s by Black post-civil rights leadership as a symbol of Black identity and empowerment. The Japanese term ‘mingei’, coined by the philosopher and cultural figure Soetsu Yanagi, along with potters Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai, denotes folk or craft objects made by local, often unknown craftsmen. For Yanagi, craft challenged conventional ideas of art and beauty since it evolved from traditional practices where the divisions between art, philosophy and religion had merged or disappeared.