Interview: Artist Ilana Harris-Babou on Power Dynamics of Domestic Aspirations

Jeremy O. Harris, PIN-UP, December 1, 2019

"Design without ties to its origin, history, or culture is like a tree without roots," pontificates New York-based artist Ilana Harris-Babou, playing the role of a fictional home-furnishings-company CEO in Human Design (2019), one of three videos she showed at the recent Whitney Biennial. In these works, Harris-Babou interrogates the relationship between material culture, race, and authenticity with her trademark sense of humor - the same destabilizing wit that drove 2016's breakout Cooking with the Erotic, her delirious take on the cooking show, sometimes featuring her mom. With her twisting of popular aspirational-media formats, Harris-Babou attacks serious issues such as reparations and redlining with sardonic savvy. Her 2018 exhibition Reparation Hardware, for example, transformed New York gallery Larrie into a high-end furniture showroom, as though the suburban stalwart Restoration Hardware had rebranded, its new name referencing the idea of financial compensation for the descendants of slaves. The show's videos and ceramic sculptures looked to advertising, antique refurbishing, and home improvement to comment on the ongoing project of shaping our own identities. For PIN-UP, Harris-Babou sat down with fellow millennial wunderkind and Yale grad Jeremy O. Harris, author of Slave Play and Daddy, who's recently shook up the New York theater scene. The two artists share an interest in unpacking aspirational material culture and the complex relationships between class, race, and labor. Appropriately enough, they met at the Meatpacking District's Restoration Hardware store, a stone's throw from the Whitney, where they discussed mothers, reparation, and provenance in the context of fantasizing a resolved past.


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