by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Tschabalala Self, based in New York's Tri-state area, is an artist known for her syncretic style made by amalgamating painting and printmaking to explore ideas about the Black body. Female bodies predominantly populate her practice, a practice that involves using a combination of sewn, printed, and painted materials and is an effort to “expand her critical inquiry into selfhood and human flourishing.” Marking her first public art commision is a large bronze sculpture, titled Seated, near the Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, that has been commissioned by Avant Arte. With its first public art programme, Avant Arte reinforces its aim to make art more accessible and has partnered with the King’s Cross neighbourhood to realise the public art programme. Avant Arte also supports artists to push the boundaries of their practice.
Self’s first public art commission is directly inspired by her ongoing body of work which highlights ‘domestic space’ and ‘trappings’. For the artwork, the installation artist has created a large bronze sculpture with a seated figure, asserting her presence, a contradiction to the gender norms that dictate the space a person can take up, bringing her exploration of the domestic space into the public realm. Working with bronze for this public sculpture has also been extremely exhilarating for the American artist as it carries a historical meaning in western art and also within the African Diaspora. Self wanted to create a sculpture in a public space, which spoke about joy whilst acknowledging the power such an unadorned gesture of seating can have in asserting one’s right to take up space.
Public art is an exploration of the significance of ‘taking up space’ and ‘taking a seat.’ In recent years, Self has been engaged in the activity to investigate the significance of the domestic space, looking at simple objects like tables, chairs, and beds, and thinking about what this can mean to individuals and audiences on a psychological and emotional level. In an interview with STIR, Self says, “For me, a chair is something that is super loaded, as it is something that everyone has and uses frequently, but there are so many associations with the objects that seem to be neutral, so I think that implied neutrality is really what makes it something that makes it a great touchstone to have a larger conversation. Everyone has some kind of association with it. I imagine the seated woman to be someone strong, someone who’s powerful, and someone who feels like they have a right to take time to themselves and take up space. She’s not an individual, but rather a person that’s a stand-in for many people.”
With the public art, Self wanted viewers to feel as if they were happening upon a moment in a character’s life. “I feel this is an important dynamic to cultivate in art because it changes the dynamic, so the figures and the artworks are not there for the pleasure or the edification of the viewer; they are there living their own lives, going through their own everyday emotions,” explains the visual artist. The viewer is being presented with the opportunity to see them at this moment in time, that is distilled.
The launch of the mixed media art sculpture is accompanied by online programming as well as a pop-up in Coal Drops Yard, both events that dig further into Self’s art practice. In addition, Pilar Corrias is presenting a solo exhibition - Home Body by Self - across its Savile Row and Eastcastle Street art galleries. It showcases large-scale installation paintings, works on paper, furniture, and sculpture. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the confinement in the domestic space and isolation opened an opportune moment of introspection. Yet, the experience also served as a point of entry to understand how spaces are created through the lens of gender.
With the exhibition, Self looks at the “domestic space as a site for both personal expression and performance.” The encounter with the physical trappings of the home looks at the unnamed women and men who at once appear familiar and distant. The large body of work encompassing painting and printmaking by Self emerges from the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality. It looks at the emotional, physical, and psychological impact of the Black female body, as an icon.
“I am looking forward to seeing how audiences respond and engage with this work—my first static public artwork and my first time working at this scale. I wanted to reference the quotidian with this sculpture: choosing the act of taking a seat as a daily, universal gesture of leisure and calm,” concludes Self.
The public sculpture ’Seated’ by Tschabalala Self is on view at Coal Drops Yard, London until early 2023.