Tschabalala Self builds a singular style from the syncretic use of both painting and printmaking to explore ideas about the black female body. The artist constructs exaggerated depictions of female bodies using a combination of sewn, printed, and painted materials, traversing different artistic and craft traditions. The exaggerated biological characteristics of her figures reflect Self’s own experiences and cultural attitudes toward race and gender. “The fantasies and attitudes surrounding the black female body are both accepted and rejected within my practice, and through this disorientation, new possibilities arise,” Self explains. “I am attempting to provide alternative, and perhaps fictional, explanations for the voyeuristic tendencies towards the gendered and racialised body; a body which is both exalted and abject.”
No (2019) features a voluptuous female figure rendered mainly in acrylic paint and collaged strips of linen, with her breasts clothed by pieces of fabric sewn into the canvas surface. The subject’s scowl and body language—crossing her hands tightly over her knee—seem to communicate the work’s title to its viewer’s objectifying stare: “No.” Addressing the dynamic of self-expression and the unwanted attention it sometimes draws—and, by extension, of invisibility and hypervisibility—Self claims space for bodies to exist for their own self-realization. Her figures celebrate the black body (especially those of black women), and their textural, coloristic, and abstract qualities reference psychological and emotional states. The artist’s community of interrelated characters, which often have imaginative or fantastical features, engages contemporary cultural discourses on intersectional and fluid identities, reflecting the patchwork of memories, physical parts, and psychic associations that make us human.