Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath
A pioneer of the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s and ’90s, Himid has long championed marginalized histories. Her drawings, paintings, sculptures, and textile works critique the consequences of colonialism and question the invisibility of people of color in art and the media. While larger historical narratives are often the driving force behind her images and installations, Himid’s works beckon viewers by attending to the unmonumental details of daily life. Bright, graphic, and rich in color and symbolic referents, her images recall history paintings and eighteenth-century British satirical cartoons.
Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Cabin, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo Stephan Baumann
Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Exchange, 2016, Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo Andy Keate
In many works, the presence of language and poetry – sometimes drawn from the work of writers such as Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, or James Baldwin – punctuates the silence of her images with commands, instructions, or utterances that are at once stark and tender. The exhibition’s title, Work from Underneath, borrows from the dictums of health and safety manuals but doubles as a subversive proclamation. With the sculptures, paintings, textiles, and sound works that comprise the exhibition, Himid examines how language and architecture generate a sense of danger or safety, fragility, or stability.
Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath, 2019, New Museum, New York
Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath, 2019. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York
The show’s centerpiece, Old Boat / New Money (2019), is composed of thirty-two painted wooden planks, each fifteen feet in length, which will lean against the gallery’s longest wall at incremental angles. This sculptural installation evokes a phantom shipyard or a ship caught mysteriously in the building’s architecture. Adorned with cowry shells, once a dominant currency in the transatlantic slave trade, the work speaks to the often invisible legacies of colonial exploitation that can remain inscribed in architecture or other physical surroundings. In the gallery, a new sound work by Magda Stawarska-Beavan, created in collaboration with Himid, will be audible, but at a volume so faint that it registers as a kind of mirage of maritime sounds. On two large canvases created for the exhibition, Himid juxtaposes clothing and architecture in scenes depicting male and female figures – women working industriously to design places of refuge and men gathered closely as they fashion garments to shelter the body.
Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Captain and the Mate, 2017–18. Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo Andy Keate
Lubaina Himid, So Many Dreams, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo Gavin Renshaw
Himid will also debut nine new paintings on metal that will appear as if embedded in the wall. Centering on tools and hardware such as pulleys, chisels, ladders, or hinges, these works draw from the style of her “kanga paintings,” which are inspired by the designs of East African textiles but play on the poetics of health and safety manuals, offering instructions for survival. In the gallery’s rear stairwell and window bay, another audio composition will feature Himid’s spoken ruminations amid a soundscape of tools, and along with the other works on view, will invite visitors to reflect on creative action as a means of escape.
A fully illustrated catalogue published by the New Museum accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue includes an interview with Lubaina Himid, conducted by Natalie Bell, and newly commissioned essays on the artist’s work by Jessica Bell Brown and Fred Moten.