Tschabalala Self at Baltimore Museum of Art

I first remember seeing Tschabalala Self’s artwork at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (FL). I was immediately drawn to the larger-than-life-sized female figure, distorted, uniquely, artistically rendered in fabric against a checkerboard background with a cat at her feet. No discernable facial figures. Black. Here was an artist trying to say something in an original language.

Tschabalala Self.

Huh.

I filed the name in my mental artist Rolodex.

A couple weeks later at the Rubell Museum in Miami, I was again drawn to an unusually rendered, lumpy, bulbous, female figure. Again, the artist was Tschabalala Self.

Two strikes and you’re in.

One of the joys of being able to visit museums is the joy of discovery. Finding yourself attracted to artists you’re unfamiliar with, then finding them in another museum, then reading about them somewhere, then committing their name and visuals to your memory, adding a new figure to the hundreds of artists in your mental catalog.

The artists I hold on to, the artists I recognize as preeminent in their time, are the ones whose names I continue to see. I have begun seeing Tschabalala Self’s name everywhere.

Most recently, in an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art opening March 28, 2021 – the same day the museum reopens following pandemic shutdown. The exhibition runs through September 19, 2021.

Tschabalala Self “By My Self”

Tschabalala Self. Photo by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich

Over the past five years, Tschabalala Self has emerged as one of the most significant artists reinventing figurative painting. In “By My Self,” theB MA presents 13 paintings, from 2016 to the present, alongside two related sculptures that capture the depth, intricacy, and singularity of Self’s formal strategy and techniques for investigating the iconographic significance of the Black female form in contemporary culture.

Among the featured works are a new suite of three paintings of a female couple created in response to Henri Matisse’s sculpture Two Women (1907–08; originally titled Two Negresses) in the BMA’s collection.

Self uses a variety of reproductive techniques, including stencils, tracings, prints, casts, and mechanically stitched lines of thread, to produce her singular and complex works. The exhibition explores how the compositional process generates meaning in Self’s work, and the ways in which it also reflects her theory of selfhood as a consciousness that is at once produced by external images and by an ongoing reworking and evolving of forms into a new whole.

“You are the sum of your experiences, but you also absorb, in a lifetime, all of the different ideas and experiences of others. My process mimics this phenomenon.” –Tschabalala Self

About Tschabalala Self

Tschabalala Self (born 1990, Harlem, NY) lives and works in New York City and New Haven, CT. Recent solo exhibitions of her work have been presented at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2020); Art Omi, New York (2019); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2019); Frye Art Museum, Seattle (2019); Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2018); Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland (2017); and Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London, UK (2017). She holds an MFA from the Yale School of Artand a BA from Bard College, Anandale-on-Hudson, NY.

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