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'Talisman in the Age of Difference' curated by Yinka Shonibare MBE on view at Stephen Friedman Gallery
Installation view. Photo: Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

LONDON.- Stephen Friedman Gallery presents the exhibition ‘Talisman in the Age of Difference’ curated by pioneering British artist Yinka Shonibare MBE.

This exhibition is a journey of encounters that explores ideas of magic and subversive beauty in work by artists of African origin and across the diaspora and artists who empathise with the spirit of African resistance and representation. Presenting an eclectic and surprising range of works, the exhibition includes painting, sculpture, drawing and other objects from the early twentieth century to the present day.

A talisman is thought to possess transformative energy as with a lucky charm, fetish, amulet, mascot, totem, idol or juju. The featured artists transform perception and materials into a form of talisman, a manifestation of protest and difference.

The civil rights movement and identity politics are explored by a number of artists here. Others pursue an alternative path in their shared search for originality, spirituality and the sublime.

As with his own practice, Shonibare has selected artists who make provocative work that consciously belies a subversive and political message and does not necessarily conform to a western vision of art.

For artists such as Genevieve Gaignard and Deborah Roberts, this is the first time they have shown in the UK. Rebellious, combative themes run through the works of these two artists who shake the foundations of tired, long held beliefs about black identity.

The transformation of an everyday material reflects its power to act as a totem or mascot. Leonardo Drew reconfigures materials into wall-based reliefs which appear to have a magical purpose. Melvin Edwards uses steel to commemorate historical civil rights violations against African Americans, whilst the work of Beauford Delaney, Jacob Lawrence and William Pope. L illustrates the simultaneous complexity and beauty of African American life.

The work of David Hammons, John Outterbridge and Betye Saar is characterised by the transformation of cultural objects into magical, fetishistic assemblages. Similarly, William Kentridge’s powerful work confronts South African politics and history with a lyrical and poetic expressionism. South African born artist Marlene Dumas’ unflinching and emotionally charged portraiture explores sexuality and death. Kehinde Wiley reimagines history to unpack the present: a talismanic alteration of history, where contemporary black bodies are rendered with regal majesty. Zanele Muholi’s portraits of transwomen and non-binary models strikes an empowered note of joy. Similarly, in Samuel Fosso’s photographic self-portraits the artist poses as key historical African figures.

Zak Ove and Kendell Geers make sculpture that bridges western art tropes and African cultural references. Jake & Dinos Chapman’s series ‘The Chapman Family Collection’ combines ethnographic artefacts with McDonald’s characters to critique the mechanics of globalisation. Irvin Pascal produces playful self-portraits on wood which evoke historical artefacts. Thomas J Price’s sculptural studies and the painted portraits of Derrick Adams seek to re-position how the black male is perceived.

Romare Bearden’s cubist inspired collages, Abe Odedina’s magical paintings on panel, Armand Boua’s scene paintings and Jeremiah Quarshie’s hyper-realistic paintings present the black body as authentic and sometimes poetic allegories of everyday life. Hassan Hajjaj’s photographs fuse fashion photography with Moroccan cultural references to unpack perceptions of North Africa. Mickalene Thomas questions the conventions of beauty, contesting art historical portrayals of women. Portia Zvavahera’s magical realist paintings are taken from real-life and rendered in exuberant colour.

Lubaina Himid, Isaac Julien and Hew Locke examine Britain’s colonial past, just as Larry Achiampong’s series ‘Glyth’ critiques contemporary Britain.

Like Shonibare, all of these artists value art as a talisman: a vehicle for change. At the heart of the exhibition, Shonibare is asking, ‘Can political art truly convey the power of its subject? Can art that is unconventionally beautiful be a form of resistance?’ ‘Talisman in the Age of Difference’ seeks to answer these questions.

Responding to the themes in the exhibition and its long-term commitment to the work of Yinka Shonibare MBE, Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) has compiled a reading list of exhibition catalogues, artist monographs and publications in the collection of Stuart Hall Library. The list covers subjects such as contemporary African art, diaspora, fetishism, ritual, and includes most of the artists present in the exhibition.

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