Tschabalala Self Is the Visual Artist Exploring Movement and Identity

Tschabalala Self Is the Visual Artist Exploring Movement and Identity

Life is a party for the up-and-coming artist whose work has been featured in solo shows in major cities across the globe.

Life is a party for the up-and-coming artist whose work has been featured in solo shows in major cities across the globe.

Photography: Philippe Jarrigeon

Styling: Clare Byrne

Text: Whitney Mallett

“I always want to give the audience the image that they can move,” says Tschabalala Self, referring to the figures she coaxes together out of paint and fabric, patchworks suggesting black female bodies in flux, their limbs dancing across the canvas. “I feel they’re more similar in my mind to puppets or dolls, something that at any moment could become animated,” the artist explains. “I want to put the idea in your head that they’re coming from somewhere and that they have the possibility of going somewhere.”

Since completing an MFA at Yale in 2015, Self has navigated auspicious interest in her work, with solo shows in New York, L.A., Berlin, and Naples, and reviews from Art in America and the New York Times.

While these days Self splits her time between New York and New Haven, the 26-year-old artist was born and raised in Harlem. Growing up, her mom sewed dresses from scratch for the family, giving Self an early introduction to the textiles that texture her collages. “My mother collected a lot of fabrics,” she says, and some of them have ended up in the artist’s own pieces. She also looks to fabric shops and thrift stores for textiles and incorporates everyday materials like bed sheets.

Self’s work, which includes painting as well as sculpture and animation, is grounded in thinking about “the experience of living inside a body.” While her art strives to represent the complexities of the black female experience, she takes issue with how work by white, male artists is framed as universal, while women and artists of color frequently get asked to talk about how their identity relates to their work. “I don’t mind talking about my identity, just everyone should be asked about it,” she contends. “If you’re a white, male artist, your work is about being a white male as much as my work is about being a black woman.”

Currently, Self is preparing for a solo show in London in January and another exhibition in Rome in 2018. The latter, she notes, “is going to have a lot of animation in it,” explaining that she might return to a concept from a past series of paintings called “The Function,” and explore the theme of house parties. “I love parties because of all the social dynamics, like jealousy, anger, excitement, nervousness...It might be the perfect time to take that house party project to the next level,” she suggests before adding, “I’m not sure yet. I have plenty of time.”

DRESS AKRIS, SCARF VINTAGE FROM 
NEW YORK VINTAGE, EARRINGS DINOSAUR DESIGNS. ON LIPS, M.A.C. PATENTPOLISH LIP PENCIL IN REVVED UP. ON EYES, M.A.C. M.A.C. STUDIO EYE GLOSS IN NEXT UP NEON AND M.A.C. EYESHADOW IN ATLANTIC BLUE. ON NAILS, M.A.C. M.A.C. STUDIO/
STAR TREK NAIL LACQUER
 IN HOLLADECK.

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