Spotlight: Artist Tschabalala Self’s Captivating ‘Pantheon of Invented Characters’ Take Center-Stage in Her Debut European Museum Exhibition

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About the Artist: American artist Tschabalala Self (b. 1990) is originally from Harlem, New York, and continues to work within the Tri-state area. First studying studio arts at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, where she graduated with her BA in 2012, Self received her MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University in 2015. Though painting and printmaking are two integral facets of Self’s practice, their transformation and evolution in the form of mixed media works illustrate the technically experimental, exploratory nature of her work. Across Self’s oeuvre, the Black body and Black life are both central themes and subject matter; created from a personal perspective and for an audience within the same community, Self’s work employs a diverse range of materials to create compositions that bridge external perception with understandings of self. A 2017 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, and grantee of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Self has had two dozen solo exhibitions since her graduation in 2015.

What You Need to Know: Represented by Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Self is currently the subject of her first solo museum exhibition, “Tschabalala Self: Inside Out,” held at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen in Switzerland. The show explores both the technical and thematic range of the artist’s practice, featuring over two dozen works including sculptures, multimedia paintings, and a single-channel video, (2021), documenting a performance Self presented at Performa festival in New York in 2021. Curated by Gianni Jetzer and on view through June 18, 2023, the exhibition exemplifies the themes central to Self’s practice, centering on social and cultural, historical and contemporary ideas surrounding the Black body: “Collective fantasies surround the Black body and have created a cultural niche in which exists our contemporary understanding of Black femininity. My practice is dedicated to naming this phenomenon.”

Why We Like It: Though clearly deeply rooted in the tradition of painting, the compound of materials and techniques within Self’s two-dimensional compositions defy easy categorization. Highly specific, the patchwork (often literal) of mediums offers an intriguing entry point into symbolic readings or stylistic interpretations—both of the works as physical objects as well as what they depict. Focusing on bodily representation, the figures invite the viewer to reflect on their perception of the Black body, most commonly female, on both a personal level as well as a cultural and societal one. The figures are singular and specific, yet they are far from traditional portraiture. Instead, they are an amalgamation of what Self has termed a “pantheon of invented characters.” Conceptually and compositionally, they exist in the space between realism and abstraction, conveying through Self’s own artistic lexicon the complex and dynamic mythologies and lived experiences the Black body is subjected to.

See inside the exhibition and featured works below.

Installation view of "Tschabalala Self: Inside Out" (2023) at Kunstmuseum St. Gallen. Photo: Stefan Altenburger. Courtesy of Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich.

Installation view of “Tschabalala Self: Inside Out” (2023) at Kunstmuseum St. Gallen. Photo: Stefan Altenburger. Courtesy of Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna.

Tschabalala Self, No (2019). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

Tschabalala Self, (2019). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

Tschabalala Self, Loner 2 (2022). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

Tschabalala Self, (2022). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

Tschabalala Self, Morning (2022). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Evan Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

Tschabalala Self, (2022). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Evan Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

Tschabalala Self, Vanity (2020). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Evan Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

Tschabalala Self, (2020). Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Evan Presenhuber, Zurich/Vienna, and Pilar Corrias, London.

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