Cheeto Face Masks and Chocolate Chip Soap: Ilana Harris-Babou's New Work Parodies Beauty and Wellness Culture

David Everitt Howe, Art in America, April 21, 2020

Ilana Harris-Babou's videos typically lampoon aspirational lifestyle trends associated with privileged consumer demographics, adopting the forms of instructional how-tos or brand promos-complete with soundtracks of generically upbeat music-on subjects like basement renovations, the "erotics" of cooking, and fictional product lines that betray histories of racial oppression. The home-furnishing store Restoration Hardware figured in two videos she contributed to last year's Whitney Biennial. One of them, Human Design (2019), was inspired by an experience she had involving African wood carvings displayed at the company's Manhattan flagship. Speaking with Document magazine, the artist mentioned that when she inquired about the carvings' source, a sales associate replied, "We send team members out across the globe to find these one-of-a-kind objects," and explained that they weren't for sale. In other words, they were exotic curios from Africa used to enliven an otherwise staid retail space catering to upscale, largely white tastes. Pushing the situation to its humorous breaking point, Harris-Babou cast herself as CEO of a fictional interior design company who travels to Senegal to find her aesthetic roots for the benefit of her high-end clientele.


Read the full article