Lubaina Himid : Work from Underneath

The New Museum, New York, United States
26 Jun 2019 - 06 Oct 2019

Cover Image: Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Exchange, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 72 × 96 in (183 × 244 cm). Photo via NEW Museum. Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo: Andy Keate

Cover Image: Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Exchange, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 72 × 96 in (183 × 244 cm). Photo via NEW Museum. Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo: Andy Keate

The New Museum will debut an entirely new body of work by Turner Prize–winning British artist Lubaina Himid (b. 1954, Zanzibar), marking the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States.

A pioneer of the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s and ’90s, Himid has long championed marginalized histories. Throughout her over thirty-year career, Himid’s works in drawing, painting, sculpture, and textile have critiqued the consequences of colonialism and questioned the invisibility of people of color in art as well as the media. While larger historical narratives are often the driving force behind her images and installations, Himid’s works beckon the viewer through their attention to the unmonumental details of daily life. Her paintings are often bright, graphic, and rich in color and symbolic referents, and draw from history painting as well as eighteenth-century British satirical cartoons.

In many works, the presence of language and poetry—sometimes borrowed from writers such as Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, or James Baldwin—punctuate the silence of her images with commands, instructions, and utterances that are both stark and tender. While Himid’s practice is grounded in painting, she has also referred to herself as “a political strategist who uses a visual language to encourage conversation, argument, and change.”

“Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath” will debut an entirely new body of work in sculpture, painting, and sound. The exhibition’s title borrows from the dictums of health and safety manuals but doubles as a subversive proclamation, and the works on view will examine how language and architecture inform a sense of danger and safety, fragility and instability.

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.

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.

“Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath” is curated by Natalie Bell, Associate Curator.


Artist Talks
Lubaina Himid in Conversation with Curator Natalie Bell
Saturday, June 29 on 4:30pm




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