Purple Art

[June 24 2020]

Somaya Critchlow’s “Underneath a Bebop Moon” at Maximillian William, London

Somaya Critchlow’s show at Maximillian William comes at a strange time. Merely to write this sounds trite, but seems necessary. Pulled together in these quiet-noise months while the world has been buffeted by Covid-19’s tides of infection, confinement, bereavement and economic chaos, the show has emerged in the center of a reinvigorated battle for the rights of people of color around the world to live lives free from oppression, hatred and state-sanctioned murder. And it opens in a London still under lockdown – to see these works in the flesh you need to book a slot to be confined with them, a moment of stillness in a world swinging through rapid social, cultural and environmental transformations.

Fittingly perhaps, the bebop music of the show’s title itself swung out of the swing era – with fast tempos, complex chord changes and a shimmering, bright blend of pain and joy. Under her titular moonlight, Critchlow presents black female bodies – costumed, nude, domestic, sexual, transported out of time – across a confident range of scales, from tiny paintings that take their cue from portrait miniatures to larger canvases. New developments in this show include a series of pastel, watercolor and pencil works on paper grouped together. And it is perhaps in the grouping that we see the defiant singularity of these women, occupying the center ground of each of these works – ‘Angela’ eating her blood orange, the ‘Volleyball Intellectual’ staring back at the viewer in her neon bikini, subject not object. At the end, it’s one of Critchlow’s titles – ‘Alone Again’ – that sounds less like a lament, and more like a statement of intent.

Text and photos by Jethro Turner

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