arts and design

‘I have always thought in conversations’: inside the art of Lubaina Himid


Six Tailors, 2019

“They’re all trying quite hard not to be the most dominant man in the room. They’re making something together, working quite hard on the moment, perhaps creating their way out of trauma. I do like their cotton reels … The idea was to get that many men in a space and have them not planning, exactly, but being and thinking. There is a relationship with the painting of female architects; we have three architects and six tailors. I’m thinking about the similarity and difference between clothes and buildings, how we inhabit both of them.”

Cover the Surface, 2019

Cover the Surface, 2019.
Cover the Surface, 2019. Photograph: Lubaina Himid

“This work is part of a series loosely called Pastry Chefs, in which I imagine men who make perfect things in their working lives: beautiful things that no one will eat, that are really to be looked at and admired. They are experts at teasing sugar about, and building marvellous things from cake and jelly and sugar. And then what do you do at the end of the day? They’re in the back alley, outside the kitchen, just trying to make that kind of everyday decision: are we going to have a drink at yours? Are we going to go to that club? On those kind of tiny moments your whole life could turn.”

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The Operating Table, 2019

The Operating Table, 2019
The Operating Table, 2019. Photograph: © Lubaina Himid

“This is about: what would happen if we three built a city? The woman with a dice in her hand is suggesting chance as a way of making decisions. I think the woman in the middle is hedging her bets between the recklessness of designing something with dice, as opposed to the woman in orange who has very particular ideas. Women in my paintings are always strategising and attempting to show that there are several ways of doing things. I think I’ve always thought, in conversations with real women: ‘Let’s see what your strategy is and what mine is. One of them’s going to work.’”

Blue Grid Test, 2020

Blue Grid Test, 2020.
Blue Grid Test, 2020. Photograph: Lubaina Himid

“This is a 25-metre long painting of 64 patterns across a number of objects, which range from a bed head and a mandolin, to maps and books and carrier bags – all kinds of objects that were just around in the studio, or in the house. Magda Stawarska-Beavan and I made this piece as a collaboration. Her part of it is a six-track audio of me talking in French, English and Flemish about the colour blue, interspersed with a friend of ours playing the instrumental part of Joni Mitchell’s Blue. This is about the conversation that we had around the subject of notes, codes patterns and repetition. There are 64 musical bars and 64 different patterns from all over the world.”

Man in a Shirt Drawer, 2017-18

Man in A Shirt Drawer, 2017-18.
Man in a Shirt Drawer, 2017-18. Photograph: Lubaina Himid

“I love that thought of opening a drawer and knowing that somebody else’s life is coming out of it. Lots of the furniture that we all have is not new from Ikea. If we’re living in rented accommodation it might easily be old from Ikea. Someone else has quite often used those drawers. So it’s about the lives that have gone before. You put your paper or your socks and knickers into somewhere that someone else had kept their diaries and phonebooks. An everyday encounter.”

Ball on Shipboard, 2018

Ball on Shipboard, 2018.
Ball on Shipboard, 2018. Photograph: Lubaina Himid

“This is a loose pastiche of a James Tissot painting [The Ball on Shipboard, c1874]. What’s gorgeous about that is that it shows an encounter between two young women wearing the same dress – bizarre, and surely coded. I took elements from it: there’s a kind of party going on, and a man emerging from below. What is his relationship to the men in the centre? Or is he, which I think is more likely, really wanting to be a part of the intimate conversation on the left? He’s wearing the same orange and blue as one of them.”

Lubaina Himid is at Tate Modern, London, from Thur to 3 July 2022.



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