This past summer, fifteen new paintings and an installation by the British artist Lubaina Himid were on display at the New Museum in an exhibition called “Works from Underneath.” Curated by Natalie Bell and accompanied by a pair of sound collages by Magda Stawarska-Beavan, the show was a slow-rolling wave of meditations on labor and whether toiling on our own terms can subvert a history of exploitation. Each work, a kind of odyssey through the precarious conditions of migration, revealed tangled and fraught histories of the work black people have done to build empire. What Himid deserves is a major retrospective that fully recognizes her not solely as an artist but also as a political strategist who blew open the gates of British art to make space for herself as well as her forebears, peers, and those who will come next.
On September 23, 2019, The New York Review of Books and David Zwirner Books hosted “The Power of the Critic,” the first in a four-part series of public talks bringing together leading writers, artists, and thinkers to explore the role of power within the cultural sphere.
In the paintings that appear in Devan Shimoyama’s “Shh…,” a small recent show at De Buck Gallery in New York City, figures are portrayed with books by various writers in everyday spaces made spectacular with a liberal use of glitter and costume jewelry that give texture to the scenes’ surfaces. It seems that what Shimoyama wants us to think about is what we might be able to control of our identities and our realities by considering and creating language, both visual and written, that defies established representational paradigms. Outside the galleries of portraiture, progress—albeit not enough—is affecting the world of art and literature: museums and publishing houses have already begun creating an alternative contemporary canon that not only takes as its theme the survival of black subjects, but also imagines their futures, and finds within their lives the full spread of pleasure, beauty, and abandon.