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Tschabalala Self on shifting the conversation about the black female body

PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 January 2017

Tschablala Self. Picture: Francois Dischinger/Cultured Magazine

Tschablala Self. Picture: Francois Dischinger/Cultured Magazine

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Tschabalala Self has just opened her first exhibition in the UK, showing work spanning her career so far.

Tschabalala Self, Get It, 2015, Acrylic, Flashe, handmade paper and fabric on canvas. Photograph: Maurizio EspositoTschabalala Self, Get It, 2015, Acrylic, Flashe, handmade paper and fabric on canvas. Photograph: Maurizio Esposito

The two storey space at the Parasol Unit foundation is currently brimming with confidence as women gaze out from the walls.

Tschabalala Self has just opened her first exhibition in the UK, showing work spanning her career so far.

Still only in her mid-twenties, the New York born artist may not have many years under her belt but she has enough work already for a retrospective.

Ranging from the paintings and prints in the entrance room to the ceiling high assemblages in the second section and upstairs, Self focuses on the black female form.

She is aware of the transition that she has made throughout her timeline, and displays this transformation clearly for the viewer.

“The earlier work would be a reimagining of work that already exists but the work I’m making now is coming more from my own psyche and my own aspirations for what I want these figures to be.

“I’m ultimately happier with these figures than with the work I was first making, because in mirroring things that already existed I wasn’t contributing new information or new perspectives. Focusing more on what I want to create rather than how I feel about what’s already out there is a more productive way of working.”

Her exploration of the black female body moves away from a very limited existing dialogue.

“It always came down to this conversation of the how the black female body functioned in a historical context in its connection to whiteness and slavery and colonialism.

“Thinking about how it exists as an icon in contemporary culture and less as a historical site of trauma allowed me to have more productive conversations and more diverse conversations.

“In a strictly historical narrative there’s no space to talk about the psychology of your figures or aspirations or desires. All of that is left out when you try to politicise the body. I’m more interested in telling the real stories of these figures and to do that I had to really change the whole conversation about them.”

Tschabalala Self at the Parasol Unit foundation on Wharf Road runs until March 12. Open Tuesday to Sunday, parasol-unit.org


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