Khari Turner investigates the fraught relationship between water and African Americans within his paintings, an evocative subject that brings into view such historical examples ranging from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Flint water crisis. In so doing, he employs water both as a subject matter as well as a material component, as his paintings oftentimes depict Black bodies surrounded by water by using water from natural sources as a solvent for paint.
In a similar vein, If the Water Hadn’t Been So Cold depicts a handcuffed, restrained Black body, although the only identifiable features of the figure are his nose and lips. The rest of the figure is filled with violent waves that merge with the off-white background, while his face is filled with another shade of blue whose tone reinforces the coldness of water that is mentioned within the title. The figure as a whole reminds the spectator of the countless African bodies that were thrown into the Atlantic Ocean during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, after having suffered from maltreatment and malnutrition over the course of the journey.