January 26 – April 28, 2019
Tschabalala Self’s first museum solo presentation in the United States brings together figurative works in painting, sculpture, and video, including four new pieces created for the occasion. The show highlights Self’s engagement with the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality, and her particular focus on the iconographic significance of the black female body in contemporary culture. Through her work, Self creates exuberant, multilayered characters—not depictions of herself or others, but “avatars”—that resist reductive representations of blackness, performing their individual identities in defiance of the voyeuristic fantasies of the spectator. These avatars are most often constructed from machine-sewn fabric scraps including velvet, denim, and animal prints, combined with cut-out portions of discarded canvases, and layered with acrylic paint, oil pastel, and charcoal. The specific associations attached to certain fabrics and patterns anchor Self's characters in reality, becoming a visual grammar through which new personalities and alternative narratives can be imagined.
The exaggerated physical attributes of the depicted figures reflect the artist’s own experiences and contemporary cultural attitudes toward race and gender, but their detailing celebrates the complexities of black identity. These complexities are often obscured in American culture, in which an entrenched legacy of stereotyping makes the black female figure hypervisible—explicitly sexualized or enshrouded in narratives of pain and suffering. Self’s unruly subjects disrupt expectations by asserting their agency and physical autonomy. Seen leaping, dancing, touching themselves, coupling, and contorting their bodies, her characters expand the scope of liberatory movements, asserting that ordinary pleasures can also be acts of resistance.
Tschabalala Self (American, b. 1990 Harlem, New York) lives and works in New York and New Haven. She received her BA from Bard College in 2012 and her MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2015. Recent exhibitions include: Bodega Run, Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2018); Bodega Run, Pilar Corrias Gallery, London (2017); Tschabalala Self, Tramway, Glasgow (2017); Tschabalala Self, Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London (2017); Desire, Moore Building, Miami (2016); The Function, T293, Naples (2016); A Constellation, Studio Museum Harlem, Harlem (2015); and Tropicana, The Cabin, Los Angeles (2015).