Sensation Code, a new solo exhibition of the work of Studio Art Assistant Professor Nicole Awai is presented at Barbara Davis Gallery in Houston. The exhibition will be on view from May 8 - July 3, 2021.
Awai’s multimedia works delve into her sense of identity and place, creating dimensional creations that reference Caribbean and American terrains, architecture, and the domestic sphere. As a critic at the Yale School of Art from 2009 to 2015, she secured her place in the eyes of a new generation of artists working to find their place in history. As recently as this past April, Artnet spotlighted the work of Awai as one of three artists that curator Barbara Davis was watching, "Davis thinks a much wider audience should be aware of Awai’s career. 'Nicole has been working through these ideas in nuanced ways for decades,” Davis said. “Her works seem to awaken the viewer’s sensibility to issues that might otherwise be hidden.'
In a review for Sightlines, curator and critic Taylor Bradley writes,
Three of the pieces on view — “Invincible” (2019), “All the White Stuff” (2019), and “Specimen from Local Ephemera: Go Go Green Compression with Black Ooze” (2008) — include what Awai refers to as a “sensation code”: along the edge of the paper is a column of blocks of colors that lists the names and brands of each nail polish hue with which Awai painted. They have a double effect; relative to Awai’s fantastic imagery, the words feel absurd — e.g., “Skin Tight Denim,” “Phallic,” and “Drama Queen.” On the other hand, the names speak to the grotesque and calculated language of marketing campaigns, which reinforce cultural narratives about color relationships. “White Whip,” from “All the White Stuff,” was a particularly disturbing example and speaks to the ways in which such endemic perceptions of color manifest in material culture.
Awai's work is grounded in extensive research, recognized most recently by the College of Fine Arts in their 2021 Distinguished Research Award given to Awai at the close of the academic year.