Lubaina Himid’s paintings are deeply unnerving and therefore successful. Her work is immediately engaging and evokes discomfort in the viewer, if they have any sensitivities to the lives of the often-marginalized communities around the world. While the painting execution may appear often simplistic, the imbued meanings are incredibly complex and nuanced.
Recalling specific moments in time or cataclysmic circumstances for marginalized communities – such as the transportation of slaves aboard the 19th century French ship Le Rodeur, when blindness struck many slaves and resulted in their being tossed overboard – but doing so in a such a way to force a perspective shift is Himid’s expertise. For instance, in Himid’s 2016 painting “Le Rôdeur: The Exchange,” she portrays the aforementioned slaves in dinner attire – those blinded by sickness enjoying canape’s and cocktails while donning masquerade ball masks. Her work is very poetic, drawing allegories into almost all of her work.
After winning the Turner Prize in 2017, the Tanzanian-born British artist has garnered significant attention, with several major mid-career retrospectives. Her first in the United States is currently showing at the New Museum and entitled Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath, a title that to me could mean several things: the stated exploration of how language (particularly in health and safety manuals) and architecture can inform a sense of danger or safety, but immediately calls to mind a revolt from the literal bowels of slave ships – a call to arms of sorts.
One piece that seems to cement this is her “Old Boat/New Money,” composed of thirty-two wooden planks adorned with cowry shells, the centerpiece of the show highlights the invisible legacies of colonial exploitation in architecture or our surroundings that we often overlook or ignore.
Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath runs through October 6, 2019.