Five works to know in the 2021 Summer Exhibition
By Alayo Akinkugbe
Published on 22 November 2021
We enlisted art historian and founder of @ablackhistoryofart, Alayo Akinkugbe, to uncover five gems in this year’s show that capture Yinka Shonibare RA’s vision to ‘Reclaim Magic’.
Alayo Akingube is an art historian and founder of @ablackhistoryofart. Her work focuses on highlighting the overlooked Black artists, sitters, curators and thinkers from art history and today.
1. ‘Sweep’ by Sally Mae Pettway Mixon
Sweep is a queen size quilt by Sally Mae Pettway, and it is featured in this year’s Summer Exhibition. Pettway is associated with the world-renowned, Alabama-based Gee’s Bend quilting Collective. The group of women in the collective today are the descendants of generations of African American women in the isolated area, and the quilt making tradition in Gee’s bend goes back to the 18th century.
This particular quilt is a burst of colour, featuring every shade of the rainbow in an abstract pattern that suggests the bottom left edge of a much bigger series of concentric squares.
The theme of this year's Summer Exhibition is ‘Reclaiming Magic’. It is focused partly on restoring value to marginalised practices, and quilt-making – because of its association with female makers and the domestic – has often been marginalised by art history, labelled as 'craft' or 'folk-art' rather than fine art. In the words of this year’s curator, Yinka Shonibare RA, "the show celebrates the magical beauty in making" and Sally Mae Pettway’s quilt certainly evokes magic and beauty.
2. ‘Creeping With Ancestor’ by Cassi Namoda
Creeping With Ancestor is a painting by New York based contemporary artist Cassi Namoda, and it is featured in the Summer Exhibition this year.
In this work two figures, one human-like and one reptilian are shown in a dark, paranormal scene, crawling in sync towards a precarious ladder that leads downwards to the unknown. Namoda’s paintings often depict figures engaged in everyday activity, but this work, completed this year, conveys a more supernatural, quasi-nightmarish scene that is in line with the theme of ‘Reclaiming Magic’.
3. ‘Bromelia (Triptych)’ by Joana Choumali
Joana Choumali is a photographer based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and she is the current Prix Pictet Hope Laureate. Choumali’s triptych, Bromelia, is a digitally collaged photographic scene of a flower market, overlaid with embroidered chiffon and tulle. All the figures in the work are women, engaged in the action of buying, selling, observing or carrying flowers.
While the composition is busy and dynamic, there is a sense of elegance and slow-motion movement, particularly in the central figure who has her head held high, and dominates the scene, with golden lines radiating from her head like a halo, or a sunrise.
Choumali’s practice of embroidering her photographs gives them a third dimension and vibrancy that cannot be achieved with the 2D limitations of photography alone. Embroidery is also a practice that has been marginalised by art history, and, along with the other textile works at the exhibition, is highlighted in this year’s Summer Exhibition as part of a notion of restoring value to marginalised practices.
4. ‘Untitled’ by Nnena Kalu
Nnena Kalu’s sculptures in the Summer Exhibition this year are made from a range of media, including clingfilm, masking tape, drainage tubing, paper and VHS tape. Kalu is a non-verbal, autistic artist who, since 2010, has been developing her practice at ActionSpace, an organisation that has supported artists with learning disabilities since 1999.
Kalu creates vibrant and dynamic paintings and sculptures, and this untitled work is a typical demonstration of her sculptural practice, in which circular and spherical forms persist, simultaneously evoking rapid movement and constriction.
5. ‘Modern Magic (Studies of African Art from the Picasso collection)’ by Yinka Shonibare RA
Modern Magic is a mixed media work by the curator of this year’s summer exhibition, Yinka Shonibare RA. Combining Dutch wax (Batik) printed cotton with embroidery and patchwork, Shonibare responds to the African objects that were in the collection of Pablo Picasso. The diamond shapes in the background refer to Picasso’s harlequin, a recurring subject in his works.
Shonibare draws a parallel between his practice and that of Picasso, in that he adopted various European art forms, just as Picasso adopted from West African cultures. The association of ritual objects, such as the masks depicted on this quilt, with magic, as well as the vivid orange and pastel coloured fabrics, aligns with the theme of this year’s summer exhibition, ‘Reclaiming Magic’.
Learn more about Yinka Shonibare RA's bold vision for the Summer Exhibition 2021, including key works and the influence of American artist, Bill Traylor.
Visit the Summer Exhibition
Run every year since 1769 – yes, even in 2020 – the Summer Exhibition is the world’s largest open submission art show.
It brings together art in all mediums, from prints, paintings, film and photography to sculpture, architectural works and more by leading artists, Royal Academicians and household names as well as new and emerging talent.