For the Whitney Biennial, Hockley and Panetta commissioned a new film from Harris-Babou, Human Design (2019). The piece was inspired by the Whitney’s neighbor, the high-end furniture store Restoration Hardware, which has a clean, spare aesthetic and features foreign objects—tribal masks, a stone sphinx, ceramic vessels, a spiky necklace—that aren’t for sale. Harris-Babou chose to explore ideas about disenfranchisement and design. In the film, the artist plays a researcher who travels to Senegal, attempting to find the person who created the objects, whom she calls the “source.” Yet the journey may be more about self-discovery than historical knowledge: Black-and-white shots of the alleged artisan, also played by Harris-Babou, reveal that the maker looks exactly like the researcher herself.
Hockley admires Harris-Babou’s ability to consider complex, historical topics while poking fun at a furniture store, or, as in Reparation Hardware (2018), a DIY television show. “With reparations, you can take the past into your home tastefully,” the artist’s voiceover says in the latter film. Hockley noted that Harris-Babou is able to toy with “home improvement, upward mobility, and HGTV,” while demonstrating how those topics intersect with “discussions of land and property, economic class, and manners.” The film implies there’s no simple cure-all for centuries of mistreatment—reparations can’t erase the history of slavery and prejudice.