Strong vision – Admiring Lubaina Himid’s powerful and poetic work at Tate Modern
Words Eve Herbert
Over four decades, Lubaina Himid’s powerful and poetic work has made her an increasingly influential figure in contemporary art – from her pivotal role in the British Black arts movement of the 1980s to winning the Turner Prize in 2017. This is Himid’s largest solo exhibition to date, incorporating new paintings and significant highlights from across her remarkable career. Taking inspiration from the artist’s interest in opera and her training in theatre design, the show unfolds across a sequence of scenes which put the visitor centre-stage. Through a series of questions placed throughout the exhibition, Himid asks us to consider how the built environment, history, personal relationships and conflict shape the lives we lead.
Presenting over 50 works that bring together painting, everyday objects, poetic texts and sound, the exhibition offers a rare chance to experience the breadth of Himid’s influential career. Early installations including the well-known A Fashionable Marriage 1984 enter into a dialogue with recent works such as her series of large format paintings Le Rodeur 2016-18, while new paintings created during lockdown go on public display for the first time. Himid says: “I have always thought of my work as starting when people get to see it. For me nothing starts until then.”
An early fascination with pattern, influenced by her mother’s career as a textile designer, has always been central to Himid’s work. “Patterns occur when I am talking to myself and trying to make visual the music, the sound, the noise and the poetry which underpins all of my work” says the artist. A series of suspended cloth flags inspired by East African kanga textiles welcome visitors to the exhibition at Tate Modern, featuring evocative lines of poetry which address the kanga’s layered uses and meanings, as well as its associations with fashion.