Michael Bennett, We Gotta Get Back to the Crib
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Michael Bennett
We Gotta Get Back to the Crib
January 11 – February 10 2024

Installation View
6 Flat, South Studio

On View
January 11 – February 10 2024

The 6 Flat
Rebuild Foundation
Chicago, IL

View press coverage of Michael Bennett’s We Gotta Get Back to the Crib via AN Interior, ArtDaily, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Wallpaper*

WGGBTTC

Marta is honored to announce the preview of We Gotta Get Back to the Crib, the inaugural collection of sculptural furniture works originally conceived by designers Michael Bennett and the late Imhotep Blot of Studio Kër. Inspired by their shared upbringings in the coastal south of the US, as well as their Senegalese and Haitian roots, the presentation examines the identity and experiences of African Americans and the diaspora, in parallel to themes of intersectionality and the complex living conditions of Black people in America today. Each of the works—designed in joyous opposition to the dominance of Western domestic typologies—offers a reflection on place and community by establishing a nuanced dialogue around historically Black cultural motifs and object-histories.

Generously hosted by artist and social innovator Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation, Monastery Foundation, and Dorchester Industries, We Gotta Get Back to the Crib is the first design intervention to inhabit Rebuild’s newest creative project at the 6 Flat, a formerly vacant property that will become artist residences when the shuttered St. Laurence Elementary School reopens as an arts and creative entrepreneurship incubator. Dorchester Industries, the design and manufacturing arm of Theaster Gates Studio, is committed to investing in the growth and amplification of the practices of Black and Brown designers through workforce training, partnership, mentorship, direct financial support, and network-building.

The collection of works within We Gotta Get Back to the Crib reflects the multiple legacies of the site of its first landing (later in 2024, the show will travel to Marta’s gallery space in Los Angeles, and then on to Houston), honoring the rich and complex heritage of the Greater Grand Crossing community and Chicago’s South Side, where Rebuild Foundation is based. Originally a destination for white flight from nearby Washington Park in the early twentieth century, by 1980, Greater Grand Crossing had become—through redlining policies, commercial divestment, and segregationist efforts by the City of Chicago—a predominantly Black neighborhood. Despite moving through periods of economic unrest, the community maintained its historic role in promoting Black middle-class homeownership, allowing for the continued growth of its vibrant cultural landscape. Founded in 2010 and rooted in the neighborhood, Rebuild Foundation is a nonprofit organization created to extend Gates’ practice of redeeming, reimagining, and reactivating formerly vacant spaces and demonstrating the cultural, historical, and social value they hold as objects, sculptures, archives, and spaces for convening.

The home space is at the center of Bennett’s practice (Kër, the moniker under which Bennett and Blot initiated their collaboration, translates loosely as ‘house’ in Wolof, the language spoken by the Wolof people, the largest ethnic group in Senegal). Further reflected in the presentation’s title—We Gotta Get Back to the Crib is an appeal to return to Black agency and pay homage to the origins of Black craft and design—Studio Kër’s work reimagines forms such as the Dining Table, the Church Pew, and the Monobloc Chair, all of which reflect the physical tenets of communal gathering that shaped Bennett’s upbringing and the stories of larger cultural experience they express.

Mo-Mo Table, a circular dining table inspired by Akili Ron Anderson’s bas-relief frieze Last Supper (1982)—originally commissioned by the New Home Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and discovered in 2019 after decades behind drywall—exemplifies this focus. Designed to seat 8–10 people, the work proposes a communal experience for breaking and sharing proverbial (and actual) bread. The table’s distinct lack of hierarchy, eliminated through its round form and a central rotating tray that distributes food with mutual ease, reinforces the studio’s commitment to creating work that encourages communion and discourse, paying particular respect to the birthplace of the griots (primary figures of oral tradition in West Africa) and the Black matriarchs who have sustained them.

Pew Couch continues this exploration, extending the ethos of the church pew—informed by the close proximity of Black bodies in sacred space—into the domestic setting, encouraging closer connection. This work, fabricated in leather and ekki wood, references the forms of both interior and exterior environments, reflecting the masses and patterning of geological formations while integrating the uniformity of the prototypical pew with the soft plasticity of traditional sofas—a distinct example of the balance between place, vernacular, and community that Bennett’s work considers.

Gumbo Lounge Chair culminates the above discussion in the two-fold nature of its design. Inspired by the ubiquity, democracy, and versatility of D.C. Simpson’s white stacking polypropylene Monobloc Chair (1946), this sinuous fiberglass lounging chair and corresponding cushion ultimately makes two propositions for seating: first, the chair itself—a familiar form that extends its generosity in scale through its rendering from humanist parabolic curves; and second, an anthropomorphic cushion laid either over the seat or on the floor in the universal tradition. In both variations, the work’s composition emphasizes connection in Black gathering spaces of fellowship, intimacy, and celebration, reflecting Bennett’s overarching dedication to new configurations of African-diasporic design in pursuit of the dialogue, utility, and generosity that defines exceptional narrative design.

Complementing the core presentation of furniture works is an installation that showcases Bennett’s and Studio Kër’s wider consideration of the built environment and its relationship to the experience, psychology, and acoustics of architectural space. Is There Any Love? bridges the musical landscapes of Chicago and Houston via a chopped-and-screwed version of Chicago musician Trevor Dandy’s 1970 hit song “Is There Any Love?” Played through a set of human-scaled custom speakers, candy-painted in the tradition of Houston’s Cadillac and SLAB custom automobiles, the sound installation emphasizes the communion of bodies in space through the shared experience of listening and moving to the rhythm of the music, heightened in its sensorial implications through an exaggerated bass line.

Imbued throughout Bennett’s We Gotta Get Back to the Crib is an insistence on grace—on the unerring journey toward a future that, while unfixed in its destination, offers an emphatic invitation to rejoice in the power of each other’s company; of our stories and the seat we take to carry them forward.

Installation View
6 Flat, North Studio

Works

Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Cape Mantle, 2023
African Sapele
49.9 × 15.9 × 18.0 in.
126.8 × 40.4 × 45.7 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Da Block No. 1, 2023
Black Zeus Marble
11.8 × 13.0 × 28.5 in.
30.0 × 33.0 × 72.4 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Da Block No. 2, 2023
Red Travertine
15.3 × 21.3 × 16.5 in.
38.9 × 54.1 × 41.9 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Da Block No. 3, 2023
Red Onyx
12.0 × 20.0 × 25.0 in.
30.5 × 50.8 × 63.5 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Da Block No. 4, 2023
Red Travertine
13.3 × 60.0 × 16.8 in.
33.8 × 152.4 × 42.7 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Gumbo Chair, 2022
Fiberglass, Linen, Upholstery
28.0 × 31.5 × 28.3 in.
71.1 × 80.0 × 71.8 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Gumbo Stool, 2022
Fiberglass, Linen, Upholstery
26.0 × 24.0 × 16.0 in.
66.0 × 61.0 × 40.6 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Is There Any Love?, 2023
MDF, Audio Components, [Candy] Paint
Dimensions Variable

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Mo-Mo’s Table, 2022
African Sapele
84.0 × 84.0 × 30.0 in.
213.4 × 213.4 × 76.2 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Paw-Paw’s Chair (Black), 2023
Argentinian Rosewood
22.0 × 28.0 × 35.0 in.
55.9 × 71.1 × 88.9 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Paw-Paw’s Chair (Sapele), 2022
African Sapele
22.0 × 28.0 × 35.0 in.
55.9 × 71.1 × 88.9 cm

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Michael Bennett of Studio Kër
Paw-Paw’s Chair (Rosewood), 2022
Argentinian Rosewood
22.0 × 28.0 × 35.0 in.
55.9 × 71.1 × 88.9 cm

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About

Michael Bennett (b. 1984, Independence, Louisiana) is a Honolulu- and Houston-based designer of furniture, spaces, and architecture. He is a graduate of the Heritage School of Interior Design and a current student of Architecture at the University of Hawaii. In 2020, he retired from an eleven-season career with the NFL, during which he became a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFC Champion, a Pro Bowl MVP, and a Super Bowl Champion with the Seattle Seahawks. Bennett founded Studio Kër in 2020. With Dave Zirin, he is the author of Things That Make White People Uncomfortable (2018). We Gotta Get Back to the Crib is Bennett’s first presentation with Marta

Founded by Michael Bennett in 2020, Studio Kër is a collective of thinkers exploring visionary design concepts. The studio’s mission is to craft intentional objects and spaces that harmonize with the natural world and encourage meaningful interactions in order to inspire the next generation of Black artists, architects, and designers. Bennett believes that [public] space can serve as a catalyst for communion, allowing individuals to express their private emotions and ideas within a shared, public setting. His design ethos centers on the idea that architecture and art have the power to transcend cultural boundaries and foster genuine connections between people. Studio Kër is committed to exploring both contemporary and historical elements of the African diaspora, challenging traditional Western perceptions of design and architecture.

Founded by artist Theaster Gates in 2010, Rebuild Foundation is a platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation. Rebuild strengthens creative communities through grants, classes, residencies, access to its collections and free public programs. The Foundation is well known for innovative, ambitious, and impactful arts and cultural initiatives, hosting projects and programs that amplify the history, value, and promise of Black creativity at local, national, and international scales. Rebuild operates a constellation of sites on the South Side of Chicago including the Stony Island Arts Bank, Retreat at the Currency Exchange Café, Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, Kenwood Gardens, and the forthcoming St. Laurence Arts Incubator. Rebuild Foundation is grounded in and enriched by three core values: Black people matter, Black spaces matter, and Black objects matter.

Marta

Marta is a gallery that hosts works at the meeting points of art and design. Founded in Los Angeles in 2019, the gallery makes space for artists to experiment with the utility of design, and for designers to explore the occasional abandonment of function. Marta’s curatorial and publication programs take interest in both the process of an object’s creation as well the narrative of its creator(s). Marta embraces the intersection of disciplines, advocates for diversity in design, and promotes access to the arts.