Denzil Forrester: We Culture

Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, United States
06 Apr 2023 - 24 Sep 2023

Denzil Forrester, We Culture, Installation View. Courtesy of ICA Miami

Denzil Forrester, We Culture, Installation View. Courtesy of ICA Miami

Denzil Forrester: We Culture brings together twenty paintings and a dozen drawings from the Grenada-born artist’s first seven years of production, 1978 to 1985. One of the preeminent British and Caribbean painters of the last few decades, Forrester has become an important influence on a generation of younger artists.

Arriving in London at the age of eleven, Forrester grew up alongside the expanding presence of Rastafarian culture in England, as dub reggae music took root during the late 1960s and 1970s. This exhibition includes paintings that portray the clubs where Forrester spent his nights making sketches that he would reference to create large, boldly colored paintings at his studio the next day.

Alongside these vibrant paintings, the exhibition also features works that relate to the death of Winston Rose in 1981. A friend and neighbor of Forrester’s in London’s East End, Rose died under unexplained circumstances while in police custody. If reggae and dub nightlife capture one side of Black British experience at the time, social inequities and a fraught relationship with state institutions reflect the other. Rose’s death and the lack of accountability that characterized its aftermath triggered a series of somber paintings. Rose is depicted in police custody in Deado 2 (1983) and in Funeral of Winston Rose (1981) his wake is reimagined at a dub nightclub. Other paintings show the police invading spaces of joyful conviviality, standing watch beside towering speakers at the back of dancehalls and taking revelers away.

Rounding off the exhibition are a series of paintings and drawings that Forrester realized during his prestigious two-year scholarship at the British School at Rome in 1983–84. These works reverberate with light and color, synthesizing Forrester’s newfound experiences of the city with his Caribbean roots and love of London’s dub scene. In Rome, Forrester continued to work directly from sketches he made in London of nocturnal revelers dancing to the sets of legendary DJs such as Jah Shaka. Removed from that immediate experience, he revisited the subject from memory with renewed intensity. The city also offered him new subjects, like the Villa Borghese fountain, which began to appear in his work, consistently in his drawings—a medium that has been central to his practice from the beginning of his career and that Forrester continues to explore intensely.

A comprehensive publication, produced in collaboration with the Kemper Museum, will accompany Denzil Forrester: We Culture. It will include essays by leading art historians and musicologists, alongside poems by Linton Kwesi Johnson.




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