Gio Swaby Embarks on an Exploration of Self-Love and Acceptance in Her Vibrant Textile Portraits
From minimal outlines in black thread, empowering portraits of Black women emerge in new large-scale textile pieces by Toronto-based artist Gio Swaby (previously). Vivid fabrics with an emphasis on florals dominate her new body of work titled I Will Blossom Anyway, on view now at Claire Oliver Gallery, emphasizing brightness, joy, and self-love. Centering on a number of self-portraits, her recent artworks reflect on personal identity, embarking on an introspective journey toward acceptance and compassion.
Swaby’s interest in textiles ties her to a childhood surrounded by the materials her mother often used in her work as a seamstress. She was born and raised in The Bahamas before moving to Canada, where she has spent most of her adult life, and she draws on conflicted feelings about a sense of belonging and navigating what she poetically describes as her “many selves.” She says, “I reflected a lot on my own path and started to recognize how many parts of myself exist in the in-between spaces.”
In her nearly-life-size self-portraits, the artist looks directly at the viewer yet always appears relaxed, embracing tranquil moments of rest. Loose threads occasionally abandon their outlines, dangling or wandering around the canvas as if they have a mind of their own, highlighting the never-finished process of growth, evolution, and self-understanding.
I Will Blossom Anyway runs through July 29 in Harlem and coincides with her solo exhibition Fresh Up at the Art Institute of Chicago, which continues through July 3. Find more on the artist’s website and on Instagram.
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Cuba and the Carnivalesque Take Center Stage in Kehinde Wiley’s New Portrait Series ‘HAVANA’
Amidst his signature verdant backdrops, Kehinde Wiley (previously) situates his subjects in the center of the composition, chins tilted up with regal gazes, enveloped in the grandeur of colorful patterns. The artist is known for monumental portraits in oil that reframe European painting traditions, especially referencing court portraiture in which royal or noble families—almost exclusively white—were portrayed in extravagant dress symbolizing wealth and power. Wiley flips the narrative by positioning historically marginalized Black and Brown figures front and center.
Wiley’s latest body of work titled HAVANA, on view now at Sean Kelly in New York, continues the artist’s interest in the cultures and traditions of the African diaspora. He draws on two separate visits to Cuba, first in 2015 and again in 2022, exploring the carnivalesque phenomenon in Western culture, which manifests in numerous colorful, celebratory events around the world, such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Wearing layers of vivid fabric and carrying juggling sticks or instruments, Wiley captures the individuality and creative focus of each person. He says:
The performers are each different—there’s so many different points of view, so many different life experiences, but one thing that unites them all is the very sense that America dominates the economic fortune of Cuba. The relationship between America and Cuba is one that has been fraught with a fascination, a suspicion, an intrigue, and a cultural weight.
Wiley references notable artists like Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, and Alexander Calder, who around the turn of the 20th century explored similar themes. Through portraits of acrobats, dancers, and musicians, Wiley examines the political history, economic hardship, and thirst for artistic freedom in Cuba, focusing on circuses and carnivals as sites of celebration, disruption, and self-expression.
On his first visit to Cuba, Wiley stopped by the Escuela Nacional de Circo, or the National Circus School, to learn about the history of the medium in the country and its national circus, Circuba. Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the nation was home to numerous family-run companies, but today, there is only one. During his second visit, he met with members of Raices Profundas, a group regarded as one of the world’s most authentic performing ensembles in the Yoruba tradition.
Like in many parts of the world, numerous cultural histories intersect in Cuba due to the period of European colonization, which resulted in the forced migration of Indigenous populations and centuries of enslavement of African peoples. Over time, circuses and elaborate street parties became “opportunities for the formerly enslaved to engage in moments of freedom and grace that were generally forbidden,” reads an exhibition statement. “The carnival, Mardi Gras, and street processions were events in which chaos could arise, love could be expressed, and a spiritual embrace of religious traditions could be manifest.”
HAVANA continues at Sean Kelly through June 17, which includes a three-channel film featuring some of the performers. See more from the artist on his website or Instagram, and you might also want to check out Big Chief Demond Melancon’s elaborately beaded Mardi Gras costumes.
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Expressive Hands Capture Portraits of Relationships and Cultural Heritage in Malisa Suchanya’s Acrylic Paintings
In vivid pinks, reds, greens, and blues, Oakland-based artist Malisa Suchanya renders the expressive contours of hands immersed in florals and ornamental motifs. Interested in painting the human figure, she started to focus on the appendages specifically during the pandemic, sharing that she “found a deep love and satisfaction in trying to convey emotion and reflect relationships all through the different arrangements, compositions, and entanglement.” She then participated in Var Gallery’s ongoing 30 x 30 x 30 project, which invites artists to make 30 artworks in 30 days every January, spurring creativity at the start of the new year.
“I know very well that it’s projects like these that harbor an amazing environment for growth, and that was exactly what it was for me,” Suchanya says. Required to complete a painting per day, she spent about five hours on each work, plus an hour or two to prepare the next one. “Over the course of the month, I did find that my technique of painting changed quite a bit. It became a bit more time efficient and I was layering my colors with more confidence and ease… and it became close to meditative.”
Suchanya organized three sub-series within the collection, including portraits of hands belonging people who have have deeply impacted her throughout her life, reflections on being with others, and her cultural identity and upbringing in Singapore. Hands blossom from floral arrangements in the portraits series and are titled with individuals’ names, while limbs that twist and float on a black background comprise a set exploring the nuances of relationships. And looking to her Chinese, Indonesian, and Thai heritage, she included examples of colorful, traditional masks framed by hands.
Throughout the year, Suchanya participates in markets and artist fairs around the country, including San Jose Made, which you can find updates about on her website and Instagram. She will also have a solo exhibition at Mom and Pop Art Shop in Point Richmond, California, later this year, and 30 x 30 x 30 continues at Var Gallery in Milwaukee through June 4.
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Invoking the Divine Feminine, Delita Martin’s Mixed-Media Portraits Embrace Self-Empowerment
“Duality is the idea that there are two realms within (the) spirit world,” says Delita Martin, “one that is seen and one that is unseen.” This coupling is a grounding force for the artist as she practices an alchemy of spirit and aesthetics, coaxing dynamic figures from a mélange of patterns, materials, and symbols.
Through a vivid body of work titled Conjure, Martin explores what it means to be self-empowered as a Black woman and embrace “the veilscape,” a spirit world in which the unseen, freedom from racism and sexism, transformation, and ancestral connection prevail. The artist refers to this space as an “intangible reality” and returns to it again and again as she overlays her relief-printed portraits with charcoal, acrylic, gold leaf, and threaded details.
While this conceptual layer remains throughout all of Martin’s works, her vast use of symbols shifts with each portrait. She might feature a bird mid-flight, as in “Flying (Feather Skirt),” for example, to convey an unrestricted spirit, or a full flock bound to a subject’s shoulders as in “Feathers” to communicate the experience of being tethered to another. Recurring in different forms on garments or backdrops, circles are similarly evocative as they reference the connection between the divine feminine and the moon. Color, too, is emblematic. She shares:
Although I do not subscribe to any particular theory on color, I very much believe that color causes a reaction and can connect with the human spirit. For my own purposes, colors like red and orange carry a fiery energy, and blues are very calming and actually connect more closely to the spirit world in my work than any other color. I tend to favor blues the most in my work. Yellows and golds are what I consider outdoor colors that reference the earth, colors that are closely related to the waking world. Greens I connect with nature and growth. Purples/burgundy I associate with mystery and time.
Washes of acrylic or fragments of colorful patterns blur the distinction between body and surroundings, emphasizing the co-existence of the physical and spiritual worlds and reminding the viewer that part of the self always remains invisible and hidden behind the veil.
Martin, who is based in Huffman, Texas, and represented by Galerie Myrtis, will have new portraits on view this month at Tiwani Contemporary in London and is teaching a printmaking course in Salzburg this July. Find more of Conjure and other works on her site and Instagram.
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‘A World History of Women Photographers’ Unearths Hundreds of Images that Enrich the Canon
Photography is often touted as one of the most accessible and democratic mediums, making it a prime choice for those with little institutional support or access to funding. A new book edited by Luce Lebart and Marie Robert and published by Thames & Hudson explores the work of more than 300 women, many of whom were underrecognized during their lifetimes, and all of whose practices centered around the camera.
Recently translated from French by Ruth Taylor and Bethany Wright, the hefty A World History of Women Photographers is a corrective encyclopedia highlighting those with outsized impacts on the medium. The 504-page book pairs hundreds of images with text by an international roster of 160 women writers, granting similar space to each photographer and unearthing a chronically undervalued group. “With this collection of artists, it is not so much a matter of producing a counter-narrative or of deconstructing histories that already exist but of completing them. We have no desire to burn idols or topple statues, only to erect new ones, and to create a narrative that is richer and more fair,” the editors write in the introduction. “In other words, there is an urgent need to write another history, and to write it differently.”
Included in the chronologically organized text that spans from 1850 to today are luminaries like Carrie Mae Weems and Zanelle Muholi (previously), in addition to those who have only recently come into public view. The Argentine photographer Josefina Oliver (b. 1875) was largely unknown until her great-niece unearthed her archives in 2006, for example, and that same year, Karimeh Abbud (b. 1863), the first woman to establish a studio in Palestine in the early 20th century, was recognized for her distinct portraiture style in the first major exhibition of her work. “This ‘world tour’ enables us to re-evaluate some women who were celebrated and acknowledged in their own time, to remember others now unjustly forgotten, and to discover others whose work was never exhibited or discussed during their lifetime,” the editors say.
A World History of Women Photographers, created as part of the Rencontres d’Arles and Kering’s Women in Motion project, is currently available on Bookshop. (via Hyperallergic)
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Vivid Foliage Suspends Xiao Wang’s Portraits in Uncanny Tension
Gingko leaves laced with violet, eucalyptus sprigs in blue, and ferns glowing with bright orange veil Xiao Wang’s portraits with a sense of subtle unreality. As if illuminated by fluorescent light, the oil paintings depict quiet, introspective, and intimate moments between the artist and subjects, who rest among lush plant life.
In a note to Colossal, Wang shares that he continually strives for both contrast and balance. He has relationships with each person he paints, whether it be friends, his partner, or himself, and their real-life bonds emerge through the unearthly palettes. “I want to create an uncanny feeling through distorting natural colors and creating sharp contrast,” he shares. “That’s why there are so many dark tones against light tones, violet and red against green and blue.”
The use of vivid color also energizes the works and adds to the underlying unease and anxiety of the otherwise languid subjects, who appear suspended in daydreams and transitory states. “I think I’m trying to walk between realism and expressionism, meaning that my work is deeply based on naturalistic observations and oftentimes maximalist technique, but also heightened by expressive colors and surreal settings,” he says.
Wang, who was born in China and is currently based in New York, has a solo show slated for July at PM/AM in London, and you can find more of his work and glimpses into his studio on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.