Emerging over recent years as one of the most sought-after artists reinventing figurative painting, Tschabalala Self creates works that seek to radically reimagine representations of the Black female body. The American artist’s new exhibition By My Self at the Baltimore Museum of Art continues her project of exploring and reframing the cultural and societal demands, gazes, and expectations of Black women and women of colour.
Delving into the canon as well as pop culture, Self interrogates the semiotics and sexualisation of Black women. Her artworks reappropriate cultural images and respond to other art, a referential and clear-eyed technique that sees the Harlem-born artist call our attention to the ways in which Black women are saturated by objectification. The name of her latest exhibition plays on both her name and own sense of identity, as well as the last year of solitude – alienation both in the pandemic and lockdown, and in the narrow-eyed view of the art canon.
In 2012, while studying fine art in Upstate New York, she reworked images from music videos including Tupac’s “I Get Around”, exaggerating the characteristics of the eroticised Black women. Her latest exhibition features two sculptures and 13 paintings, including three new paintings which take their inspiration from Henri Matisse’s 1907-1908 work “Two Women” (originally titled “Two Negresses”).
Self uses a variety of reproductive techniques, including stencils, tracings, prints, casts, and mechanically stitched lines of threads. It’s a rich and textured visual language that is as gorgeous, vibrant, and celebratory as it is cerebral and complex. Incorporating pieces of her previous works into new works, she creates a sense of accumulated memory and the compositional process of layer upon layer of meaning.
Above, take a look through the gallery to explore some of Tschabalala Self’s work from By My Self.