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Ivan Kwei `24’s “Neo Noir”: A reimagining of Blackness at the Smith Gallery

Ivan Kwei `24 stands in front of two of his screen print pieces, “Gaze I” and “Gaze II,” from his collection “Neo Noir,” showing at the Edith Renfrow Smith `37 Student Art Gallery until Saturday, March 2. (Zach Spindler-Krage)

Adorned in an all-black ensemble — dress shoes, shirt, pants and crescent earrings complemented by stars twinkling through his makeup  — Ivan Kwei `24 unveiled his exposition “Neo Noir,” at the Edith Renfrow Smith `37 Student Art Gallery. Through this collection, Kwei says he seeks to offer a fresh perspective on Blackness, inviting viewers to “reimagine what it looks like.”

The small gallery space was bustling on Feb. 19 with over thirty attendees navigating the opening-day crowd to view the artwork and chat with Kwei. The walls currently feature Kwei’s distinctive print on paper and portrait works, marked by an interplay of circles and a palette of black, gold, silver and blue.

“Black Boys Look Blue” by Ivan Kwei `24. (Zach Spindler-Krage)

A standout piece titled “Black Boys Look Blue” showcases a self-portrait of Kwei under a blue filter, which he says draws inspiration from the color scheme of the “Moonlight” movie poster. This work marks Kwei’s first venture into self-portraiture and was created as the final project for a class.

Kwei also cites Kehinde Wiley, the artist behind Barack Obama’s presidential portrait, as a significant influence for his exposé. “His work emphasizes the portrayal and representation of Black bodies, and I aimed to incorporate elements of that into my own,” Kwei said.

The centerpieces of the gallery and personal favorites of Kwei’s “Gaze I” and “Gaze II” depict him wearing a durag and looking over his shoulder in a diptych composed of two adjacent prints on paper, one brown and the other black. The image on the black panel features a negative and almost X-ray effect, casting the portrait in a luminous contrast against its dark background.

“The picture had a somber appeal to it in the pose and the gaze, and I wanted to lean into that a bit more by using muted colors and printing on black paper instead of light, and experimenting with different ways of presenting the image,” said Kwei.

[Kehinde Wiley’s] work emphasizes the portrayal and representation of Black bodies, and I aimed to incorporate elements of that into my own.

— Ivan Kwei `24

The two panels are also visually unified through meticulously drawn circles, straight lines and dots — a recurrent theme in the collection. “I had to do a lot of circles, and drawing them consistently was a challenge,” said Kwei.

“Neo Noir” will be on display in the Smith Gallery until March 2.

Ivan Kwei `24’s exhibition included charcoal drawings, seen here in “Resonance,” screen prints, ink and marker pieces, and a woodcut. (Zach Spindler-Krage)
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Nick El Hajj
Nick El Hajj, Editor in Chief
Nick El Hajj, hailing from Beirut, Lebanon, is a fourth-year political science and economics major. In his free time, Nick enjoys delving into a good book, embarking on scenic drives and indulging in random documentaries. You’ll frequently find Nick waking up way too early to enjoy a peaceful morning of fishing at Arbor Lake.
Zach Spindler-Krage
Zach Spindler-Krage, News Editor
Zach Spindler-Krage is a third-year political science major and policy studies concentrator. He is from Rochester, Minnesota and has an unbelievable amount of state pride. Zach spends his time hiking, playing and listening to music, trying to submit op-eds for every class writing assignment, and wishing he was in Minnesota.
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