Tschabalala Self

Bodily Pleasures

Undulating with joy, power and erotic energy, the mixed-media paintings of American artist Tschabalala Self ingest the fantasies that cling to Black female bodies before exploding them from the inside out.

By Laura Bannister APR 2017

In March last year, Harlem-born artist Tschabalala Self held a solo show at Naples institution T293. It was Self’s first exhibition in Italy – the culmination of a residency – and it centred on the idea of a house party: a squelching, bubbling, ebullient space populated by multiple bodies and infinite interplays of gazes. Collages, paintings and sculptures commingled to forge a series of tableaus, in which exaggerated, prismatic characters looked at themselves and allowed you – or instructed you – to look back.

One work stuck out, to me at least. Get’It was a large painting that took over half a wall, its backdrop engulfed in a hypnotic, verdant green. In the centre of the canvas was a Black woman in profile, arms coolly tucked into what looked like the pockets of cream-coloured trousers, ballooning outward from her hips to gargantuan proportions. Emitting from her core was a writhing, energetic mass of body parts. Six hands and forearms splayed outward like a demi-god, their thirty fingertips touching strong, wide thighs and extending past her neck, reaching further out as if uncontained by the painting. They felt like a spinning wheel. They felt like a freeze-frame. They felt like a dance in slow motion.

On first reading – especially for those unfamiliar with Self’s work – these multiple hands might be confusing. You don’t know what you’re looking at, or the best way to look. Is this woman being touched, or doing the touching, or both? Spend more time with the painting and the inbuilt gender biases fade a little. Self’s women are not meek or unaware, not slapped or.. Subscribe to read this article in full

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Museum of BrisbaneQAGOMA Bendigo Art Gallery AGSA Roslyn Oxley Gallery MCA