Artist mourns Central District childhood home as he recreates it

Textiles have always dominated Agbro, which once wanted to become a designer or manufacturer of clothing (a visit to Tommy Hilfiger’s headquarters in New York changed its mind). To this day, Agbro often incorporates “soft” fabrics and textures like kozo (Japanese paper made from mulberry trees) or banana paper into his paintings and sculptures.

While his early paintings often appeared with oranges and reds, his larger scale work has been infused with blue in recent years. In a large-scale pre-pandemic installation at the Bainbridge Art Museum, large abstract figures, like human shadows, peered through the windows of his quilt-like glued fabrics, which floated from the museum’s second floor to through an open gallery to the first.

In the spring of 2020, Agbro installed a series of glued blue and white fabric and paper panels in the new Central District PCC supermarket, located at the base of one of several new modern apartment buildings on the corner of 23rd and 1 ‘Union. Each panel depicts an abstract architectural image of Central District institutions like the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute or Fats Chicken and Waffles.

“I always end up doing these blue pieces when something is big and maybe a little soulful,” Agbro says. “I guess it’s kind of a cliché. It’s blue because the subject is a bit blue.

MadArt’s installation is his most extensive work to date. Agbro tilts his head slightly and walks through an A-shaped opening in the panels. At this early stage in its two-month installation process, it’s not yet a portal to Bryant Manor 2.0. But it does offer insight into the “behind-the-scenes” machinations of a major art project. A large square table holds a laptop computer, sewing machine, iron, and lightly draped strips of blue cotton voile, which Agbro will later attach to the larger pieces of fabric already hung. Piles of folded sheets dot the floor. “Here, everything on the ground is a wall,” she explains. “They’re almost done.”

The work that remains is mostly in the detail: sewing strips of indigo cotton voile – “the shadows”, as Agbro puts it – as well as adding images of mailboxes, windows and maple trees. The details, screen-printed on kozo, will bring the walls to life.

“I could go so far as to print little mice running around the flowers, or little bushels of grass,” says Agbro. “The chain-link fences where I saw hanging tennis shoes… those are the things that will make the piece more poignant. This is partly why I wanted to do the construction of the panels beforehand, because I really wanted to spend my time here creating a place with these details, these memories.

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