In June 2019, the New Museum hosted a special conversation between artist Lubaina Himid and Associate Curator Natalie Bell on the occasion of the exhibition “Lubaina Himid: Work From Underneath.” This exhibition featured a new body of works and marked the first US solo exhibition for the British artist, who was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize in 2017.
A pioneer of the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s and ’90s, Himid’s work long championed marginalized histories. Her drawings, paintings, sculptures, and textile work critiqued the consequences of colonialism and questioned the invisibility of people of color in art and the media. While larger historical narratives were often the driving force behind her images and installations, Himid’s works beckoned viewers by attending to the unmonumental details of daily life. Bright, graphic, and rich in color and symbolic referents, her images recalled history paintings and eighteenth-century British satirical cartoons. In many works, the presence of language and poetry—sometimes drawn from the work of writers such as Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, or James Baldwin—punctuated the silence of her images with commands, instructions, or utterances that were at once stark and tender. While Himid’s practice was grounded in painting, she identified less as a painter and more as “a political strategist who used a visual language to encourage conversation, argument, and change.”
The exhibition’s title, “Work from Underneath,” borrowed from the dictums of health and safety manuals but doubled as a subversive proclamation. With the sculptures, paintings, textiles, and sound works that comprised the exhibition, Himid examined how language and architecture generate a sense of danger or safety, fragility, or stability.