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Tau Lewis (b. 1993, Toronto) transforms found materials into intricately detailed soft sculptures, quilts, masks, and other assemblages through intensive processes such as hand-sewing, carving, and plaster casting. A self-taught artist, Lewis’s practice is directed at healing personal, collective, and historical traumas through the repetitive forms of creative labor she employs. She forages for materials and artifacts charged with meaning—previously worn clothing, fabrics, leather, and photographs, as well as drift wood, sand dollars, and seashells—that she often collects from her surroundings in Toronto, New York, or outside of her family’s home in Negril, Jamaica. The evocative objects Lewis gathers and transmutes constitute a relationship in her work to the social, cultural, and physical landscapes she moves through, collects from, and inhabits. Lewis’s upcycling relates to forms of material inventiveness practiced by diasporic communities, wherein working with things close at hand is a reparative act aimed at reclaiming agency. Throughout, Lewis’s interest is in honoring and advancing these diasporic traditions, and exploring, as she has said, “the transference of energy and emotion that occurs when an object is made by hand.” For the ICA, her first solo museum exhibition in the U.S., Lewis is creating a new body of work. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, the artist’s first monograph.

“John Andress, the ICA’s associate director of performing arts, and senior curator Jenelle Porter have reached into a deep well of creativity in Boston with this show…. Kudos to them for getting it out there.”
Boston Globe

Performance, public art projects, and artist-run galleries are enjoying a resurgence in Boston. To give these movements space, exposure, and support, the ICA is—for the first time—devoting this year’s James and Audrey Foster Prize, a biennial exhibition recognizing artists of exceptional promise from Greater Boston, to performance and collaborative modes of art-making.

To select the exhibition artists, co-organizers Jenelle Porter, Mannion Family Senior Curator, and John Andress, Associate Director of Performing Arts, met with dozens of artists, curators, and other experts, then invited a selection of local artists and collectives to submit proposals. Of those, they chose four winners to realize projects of unprecedented scope and scale with the support of the museum: Ricardo De Lima, kijidome, Vela Phelan, and Sandrine Schaefer.

Profiles of the 2015 Foster Prize Artists

kijidome: An experimental project space and collaborative, kijidome was founded by artists Sean Downey, Carlos Jiménez Cahua, Lucy Kim, and Susan Metrican. Located in Boston’s South End, the gallery presents curatorial projects and events by its founders and invited guests. In their Foster Prize contribution, kijidome will create an exhibition space at the ICA in which to present multiple artists in consecutive group exhibitions, some of whom will take up residency in the South End space.

Ricardo De Lima: A visual artist, technologist, and DJ, De Lima’s practice spans a variety of media and cultural contexts. Collaborations serve as a common thread for exploring how artists, curators, and cultural workers activate thirdspaces, spaces where cross-disciplinary relationships can flourish. Ricardo curates Spectacle Boston, a collaborative performance space for experimental music and visual arts, and co-curates Picó Picante, a monthly transnational music event. At the ICA, De Lima will present a combination of sculptural installations and collaborative projects.

Vela Phelan: Working in installation, assemblage, performance, sound and video art, Vela Phelan creates rituals and beautifies mundane objects through ceremony. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico and Venezuela, Phelan is deeply influenced by modern saints and gods. He is particularly inspired by the “spiritual magic” of Mexico. Phelan enjoys transforming and altering modern and ancient energies into a new unknown universal existence. His ICA exhibit will be a video altar action centered around a fictional anti-hero named Jesús Malverde.

Sandrine Schaefer creates ephemeral artwork that explores cycles of the invisible becoming visible. She is inspired by site, the relationship between accumulative action and endurance, and challenging the parameters of real time. Her work addresses the shared human experience of fitting in, both corporally and conceptually. Schaefer is a co-founder of The Present Tense, an art initiative that produces and archives performance art events and exchanges in transient spaces, and a member of Mobius Artist Group. At the ICA, Schaefer will perform a series of ephemeral actions in and viewable from the ICA’s John Hancock Founders Gallery that engage the view and concept of an infinite horizon.

About the James and Audrey Foster Prize
The James and Audrey Foster Prize is key to the ICA’s efforts to nurture and recognize Boston-area artists of exceptional promise. First established in 1999, the James and Audrey Foster Prize (formerly the ICA Artist Prize) expanded its format when the museum opened its new facility in 2006. James and Audrey Foster, passionate collectors and supporters of contemporary art, endowed the prize with a $1 million gift, ensuring the ICA’s ability to sustain and grow the program for years to come.

The exhibition and prize are generously endowed by James and Audrey Foster.

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“Superb” —Boston Globe

Diane Simpson’s “dazzling” work will “knock you off balance.” — Art in America


Chicago-based artist Diane Simpson’s (b. 1935, Joliet, Illinois) elegantly constructed sculptures evolve from a diverse range of materials, clothing, and architectural sources. While elements of her creations appear to effortlessly hang and fold, they are in fact the result of a rigorous approach to construction techniques, reveling in passages of pattern, joinery, and skewed angles that are by turns humorous and psychologically-charged. This concise survey of over 30 years of work will include a suite of preparatory drawings and sculptural work made from the early 1980s to the present in materials ranging from corrugated cardboard and medium-density fiberboard to aluminum, wool, polyester, poplar, faux fur, fleece, mahogany, brass, copper, and steel.  This will be the artist’s first solo museum exhibition on the East Coast.

“Shirreff knows that the interstices between sculpture and photography are strange, mystical places.”
New York Times

Working across media, with a focus on material and the analogue, Brooklyn artist Erin Shirreff (b. 1975, Kelowna, British Columbia) explores the intertwined relationship between sculpture and photography. Covering several years of the emerging artist’s work, Erin Shirreff includes both sculptures and photographs of sculptures that investigate the complexities of representing sculptural objects in two dimensions. In series such as “Monograph,” Shirreff photographs sculptures she creates by hand expressly for that purpose. Alongside these photographs will be several large sculptures, among them a series called “Drops.” For these, Shirreff creates shapes by hand-cutting scraps of paper, enlarging them, and cutting them into sheets of steel. The exhibition also presents videos including Medardo Rosso Madame X, 1896 (2013), a 24-minute silent film Shirreff created by manipulating copies of an image of a sculpture by proto-modernist Medardo Rosso, then assembling them digitally.

Densely packed sculptures and immersive acoustic experiences

One of the most exciting artists to emerge in recent years, New York–based Kevin Beasley (b. 1985, Lynchburg, VA) uniquely combines sound and clothing—his core artistic materials—in stunning, densely packed sculptures and immersive acoustic experiences. This exhibition, his first in Boston, will present a selection of the artist’s sculptures made over the past five years.

Beasley’s early works harnessed the physical qualities of sound, deploying vibrations and echoes that penetrate the bodies of both performers and audience. He has embedded microphones and other electronic musical equipment in sculptures made of sneakers and foam, manipulating their sonic possibilities in his live performances. Found objects and clothing, often the artist’s own, are central in Beasley’s diverse sculptural work, ranging from compositions of shredded t-shirts and hoodies to fitted hats, do-rags, and basketball jerseys. More recent works are constructed from colorfully patterned housedresses stiffened with resin that stand on the floor and protrude from the walls, at times hardened over sound-baffling foam panels or concave forms that Beasley refers to as “acoustic mirrors.” Appearing like satellite dishes or clusters of ghostly figures, these works become conduits for absent bodies and histories that the artist evokes through color, pattern, and texture. Rather than contrasting the materiality of objects to the immateriality of music and performance, as is so often the case, Beasley forges strong affinities between the physical and the aural in his multidisciplinary practice.

In the spirit of artists Noah Purifoy and David Hammons, Beasley improvises upon the legacy of their work to highlight the importance of personal memory and to explore how lived experience intersects with broader examinations of power and race in America. In a recent installation at The Renaissance Society in Chicago, Your Face Is/Is Not Enough, 2016, the artist transformed police-issue riot gear into a carnivalesque installation that was activated by the breath of performers. His 2017 exhibition at Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum featured a single, large-scale installation, Chair of the Ministers of Defense, 2016, that merged imagery from a Baroque altar and an iconic photograph of Black Panther Party cofounder Huey P. Newton to consider—and reformulate—expressions of power for today. Through such multifaceted and visually commanding works, Beasley has proved himself to be among the most significant young artists working today.

Enduring photography that captures the passage of time.

Based in Boston since the 1970s, Nicholas Nixon has captured the intimate details of family, relationships, and life as it unfolds in front of his camera. Using a large-format 8 x 10–inch camera and black-and-white film, he has photographed Boston’s changing landscape, porch life in the rural South, sick or dying people, and his own family. This exhibition surveys the artist’s prolific career and is organized around Nixon’s remarkable ongoing project The Brown Sisters, a series of group portraits of his wife Bebe and her three sisters, Heather, Mimi, and Laurie taken annually since 1975. The Brown Sisters will be presented in its entirety, and each portrait will be paired with other photographs made by Nixon in the same year, drawn from various bodies of work, including schools in and around Boston, people with AIDS, couples, and landscapes. Together these pictures underscore photography’s singular ability to capture the passage of time in incremental moments and are a testament to Nixon’s extraordinary persistence of vision.

Nicholas Nixon was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1947. He lives and works in Brookline.

The 2019 installment of the ICA’s biennial James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition highlighting the work of Boston-area artists will feature four individuals: Rashin Fahandej (b. 1978, Shiraz, Iran), Josephine Halvorson (b. 1981, Brewster, MA), Lavaughan Jenkins (b. 1976, Boston, MA), and Helga Roht Poznanski (b. 1927, Tartu, Estonia). This intergenerational group of artists works across media including painting, sculpture, film, and video to explore questions of place, portraiture, and belonging. Their unique and exceptional work demonstrates the breadth and ecology of contemporary art practices in Boston.

First established in 1999, the James and Audrey Foster Prize is central to the ICA/Boston’s efforts to nurture and recognize local artists, showcase exceptional artwork, and support a thriving local arts scene. In the course of selecting these artists, Curator Ruth Erickson had the pleasure of conducting fifty studio visits with the following artists, and she would like to thank each of them for sharing their time and their work:
Sonia Almeida, Hartmut Austen, Clint Baclawski, Gerry Bergstein, Stephanie Cardon, Cyrille Conan, Furen Dai, Taylor Davis, Cathy Della Lucia, Sean Downey, Tory Fair, Andrew Fish, Aristotle Forrester, Ariel Freiberg, Lina Maria Giraldo, Sean Glover, Garrett Gould, Jesse Aron Green, Dell Hamilton, Elisa Hamilton, Ekua Holmes, Rebecca Hutchinson, Masako Kamiya, Woomin Kim, Timothy McCool, Susan Metrican, Maria Molteni, Elizabeth Mooney, Yuko Oda; Anthony Palocci, Jr., Roberta Paul, Jeff Perrott, Rachel Perry, Rosamond Purcell, Anabel Vázquez Rodríguez, Zoe Pettijohn Schade, Jeannie Simms, Alexandria Smith, Gabriel Sosa, Jessica Tam, Chanel Thervil, Jamal Thorne, Clarissa Tossin, Joe Wardwell, Keith Washington, and Yu-Wen Wu.

For more than 50 years, Napoleon Jones-Henderson (b. 1943, Chicago) has created works that strive to highlight, celebrate, and empower the communities where he lives. Jones-Henderson is a longstanding founding member of the influential artist collective African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA). His work translates AfriCOBRA’s aesthetic principles—to create images inspired by the lived experience and cultures of people of the African diaspora in an accessible graphic style with shining Kool-Aid colors—into woven tapestries, mosaic tile works, shrine-like sculptures, and varied works on paper. Often focused on themes of Pan-Africanism and racial justice, Jones-Henderson’s work aims to be self-affirming and reflective, with an eye toward both a fraught past and a liberated future. The artist integrates forms from African ritual sculpture and Southern vernacular architecture and incorporates reverential references to jazzman Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts,” musicians Sun Ra and Stevie Wonder, and writer June Jordan, among others. Made in close collaboration with the artist, this concise survey draws together a suite of Jones-Henderson’s works in various media across a 50-year period, centered around his magisterial woven textiles. Jones-Henderson has been based since 1974 in Roxbury, where he has been an influential community member, educator, and mentor. This is his most comprehensive solo museum exhibition in Boston.  

The 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition features Marlon Forrester (b. 1976, Georgetown, Guyana), Eben Haines (b. 1990, Boston), and Dell Marie Hamilton (b. 1971, New York). This group of artists works in a diversity of media, including collage, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, and installation, with unique artistic practices that share the impulse to create connections with other artists through their work. Developed against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the individual projects reflect each artist’s approach to community and exchange.  

First established in 1999, the James and Audrey Foster Prize is key to the museum’s efforts to nurture and recognize artists working in and around Boston, showcase exceptional artwork, and support the city’s thriving arts scene.  


Artist Biographies 

An artist and educator born in Guyana, South America, and raised in Boston, Marlon Forrester (b. 1976, Georgetown, Guyana) makes artworks that take the representations and uses of the Black male body as a central concern. Forrester often employs themes and motifs drawn from basketball culture in paintings, drawings, collages, and multimedia works that explore ideas of transformation and ritual and questions around the mediation of the Black male figure in America. Following an influential return visit to Guyana, Forrester’s work increasingly examines the instability of identity and complex ideas of homeland for individuals of the Caribbean diaspora. Forrester holds a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and a MFA from Yale University. He is a resident artist at the African-American Master Artist Residence Program (AAMARP) at Northeastern University. His work has been exhibited at such venues as University Hall Gallery, UMass Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, Boston; the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, Harvard University; 808 Gallery, Boston University; Ajira, a Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, NJ; Montserrat College of Art Gallery, Beverly, MA; and the Museum of the National Center for Afro American Artists, Roxbury. 

Born and raised in Boston, Eben Haines (b. 1990, Boston) investigates the life of objects through works that emphasize the constructed nature of history. Haines’s paintings, drawings,  sculptures, and installations employ various techniques and materials to suggest the passage of time and volatility. Many works explore the conventions of portraiture, through figures and objects pictured against cinematic backdrops or in otherworldly scenes. Recent works consider themes such as housing insecurity and accessibility during the pandemic, especially Shelter In Place Gallery, a scale model gallery that has presented more than 50 exhibitions since March 2020. Haines holds a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. His work has been shown at such venues as 13forest Gallery, Arlington, MA; AREA Gallery, Boston; Aviary Gallery, Jamaica Plain; Boston Center for the Arts; and Grin Gallery, Providence. In 2018, Haines received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Drawing. Shelter In Place Gallery received a Transformative Public Art grant from the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and the original model was recently acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  

Dell Marie Hamilton (b. 1971, New York) works across a variety of mediums including performance, video, painting, and photography, using the body—often her own—to investigate themes of memory, gender, history, and citizenship. With roots in Belize, Honduras, and the Caribbean, Hamilton frequently draws upon the personal experiences of her family as well as the folkloric traditions and histories of that region in her work. Hamilton holds a BA in Journalism from Northeastern University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. She has frequently presented her work at venues around New England, including Stone Gallery, Boston University; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; and Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, where she became the first visual artist to present a performance artwork in their galleries. Her most recent curatorial project, Nine Moments for Now, which was presented at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art at Harvard, was ranked by Hyperallergic as one of 2018’s top 20 exhibitions in the U.S. In 2019, she presented work in the 13th Havana Biennial in Matanzas, Cuba. Along with her collaborator, Magda Fernandez, Hamilton is part of the U.S. Latinx Art Forum’s 2021 inaugural cohort of recipients of the Charla Fund, a Ford Foundation-sponsored initiative that provides grants to Latinx artists. A frequent performer in the work of María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Hamilton appears in Campos-Pons’s collaborative performance When We Gather, which includes poetry and choreography from artists LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and Okwui Okpokwasili. She is currently at work on a variety of research and curatorial projects at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

Tschabalala Self (b. 1990, Harlem, New York) creates large-scale figurative paintings that integrate hand-printed and found textiles, drawing, printmaking, sewing, and collage techniques to tell stories of urban life, the body, and humanity. The artist’s first Boston presentation—and her largest exhibition to date—will include a selection of paintings and sculptures that represent personal avatars, couplings, and everyday social exchanges inspired by urban life. Together, they articulate new expressions of embodiment and humanity through the exaggerated forms and exuberant textures of the human figure, pointing to its limitless capacity to represent imagined states, memories, aspirations, and emotions. Yet Self’s characters possess an ordinary grace grounded in reality: they are reflections of the artist or people she can imagine meeting in Harlem, her hometown. 

Educational materials

Introductory text

Based in New Haven, Connecticut, Tschabalala Self (b. 1990 in Harlem, NY) was raised in Harlem as the youngest of five. She grew up observing the textures and pace of metropolitan life, with a keen attention to the surfaces that surround and clothe our bodies—whether carpet or curtains, fashion, or salvaged textiles that contain the spirit of use. The creative repurposing of material, along with the self- expression and self-possession of black women—including her mother’s innovative transformation of fabrics into dresses—inspire her work. The paintings and sculptures on view, dating from 2015 to the present, convey a multidimensional humanity, from strength and vulnerability to sexuality and boredom, shaped by methods of abstraction.

Self mobilizes eclectic techniques and materials to create animated figures that express interior states, the social energy of everyday encounters, and the potential for action. The artist places the figure of a black body imaginatively, aspirationally, and introspectively in relation to its historical representation as a symbol of property and a foil for whiteness. Combining her training in printmaking with painting, sewing, and collage, she assembles her artworks from hand-printed canvas, found textiles, and fragments of old paintings. Multiplicity—which the artist defines as the notion that we are all made up of fragments of memories and identities—is central to her formal vocabulary. As the artist notes: “You are the sum of your experiences, but you also absorb … all of the different ideas and experiences of others. My process mimics this phenomenon.”

Object labels


Out of Body, 2015
Oil and fabric collage on canvas

Acquavella Galleries

Out of Body encapsulates the artist’s practice at large, in respect to one woman constructing her own avatar: the figure on the left leans with intention toward another figure, who mirrors her. The figure on the right resembles a doll, or a puppet not yet animated—perhaps awaiting its activation by the figure on the left, whose body is articulated in bright colors and flower blossoms. Perhaps this is a self-portrait of the artist who, in her self-assuredness, confidently fashions the shapes and pieces at hand into lively figures. To render the textured appearance of the woman’s hair and buttock, Self used collagraphy—a process that entails pressing an inked plate, assembled from diverse materials, onto canvas. Doing so enabled her to use printmaking techniques on the grand scale of painting, a combination of visual expanse and experience not possible within either single medium. The sewn line is also significant: here, it primarily affixes the figure to canvas, but hints at later works, in which it becomes an expressive, drawing-like gesture, activating sculptural rumples and folds in the fabrics that make up the figure.

A mixed-media painting of two figures, one with a large belly.

Bellyphat, 2016
Painted canvas, fabric, oil, acrylic, and Flashe on canvas

Collection of Craig Robins

Holding her protruding abdomen, the female figure in Bellyphat is a vision of anticipation and affection. Pausing mid stride across a checkered floor, she turns her head toward the male silhouette that rises from her footstep in a posture that is both performative and self-possessed. As the artist notes of such couplings in her work: “The male characters are continuations of the female persona. They are there to help tell the story about her.” The woman’s thigh is a print of an architectural facade—a reference to Louise Bourgeois’s series of paintings and prints from the 1940s entitled Femme Maison (literally, “woman house”). The concept, in both artists’ work, suggests the habitat of the self as composed of an exterior to be contemplated by others and an interior to be discovered. Self, who in the artist’s words, grew up in a “women heavy” household, emphasizes the work and emotional labor that women do to both nurture and contain the lives of others.

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Louise Bourgeois, Femme Maison, 1946–47. Oil and ink on linen. 36 × 14 inches (91.4 × 35.6 cm), Collection Louise Bourgeois Trust, New York © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY


Chop, 2016
Painted canvas, Flashe, acrylic, and colored pencil on canvas

Easton Capital/John Friedman Collection


No, 2019
Fabric, acrylic, Flashe, and painted canvas on canvas

Courtesy Tschabalala Self Studio

SELF_Thank You_2018.jpg

Thank You, 2018
Acrylic, watercolor, Flashe, fabric, crayon, colored pencil, oil pastel, pencil, hand-colored canvas, and plastic bag on canvas

The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Nancy and David Frej


Dime, 2019
Fabric, acrylic, Flashe, and painted canvas on canvas

The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum purchase with significant funds provided by Komal Shah and Gaurav Garg and the Acquisition Committee


Spat, 2019
Acrylic, fabric, paper, dyed canvas, painted canvas, and raw linen on canvas

Courtesy Tschabalala Self Studio

A collaged painting of a full-figured, medium-dark-skinned woman shopping in a bodega. She stands naked before a wall of canned goods and a yellow background.

Ol’Bay, 2019
Painted canvas, fabric, digital rendering on canvas, hand-colored photocopy, photocopy, paper, Flashe, gouache, and acrylic
on canvas

Courtesy Tschabalala Self Studio

Ol’Bay illustrates the artist’s broad array of techniques and creative reuse of her prior work. It synthesizes parts of the artist’s own history as it resituates body parts from an earlier painting within the black-and-white checkerboard flooring of the bodega and its dense array of canned food products. The figure’s head, lower arm, and upper legs are photographic reproductions on canvas from Milk Chocolate (2017), one of Self’s character studies from her Bodega Run series. Cans of Goya and La Morena beans and other packaged foods—rendered by way of photocopies and digital drawing—allude to the work’s title: a rendering of Old Bay Seasoning, a spice and herb blend that Self associates with her late mother, as well as with American regional cuisine. The square of fabric at the lower right, patterned with displays of dishes, fruits, and cookware, comes from the same bolt of fabric that her mother used to make curtains for their Harlem home. Self’s stitching creates delicate floral embellishments on the curtain fabric that draws out its botanical motifs, and also holds the woman’s body together.

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Milk Chocolate, 2017. Gouache, acrylic, Flashe, fabric, and painted canvas on canvas. 96 × 84 inches (243.8 × 213.4 cm). Rubell Museum, Miami © Tschabalala Self


Racer, 2018
Acrylic, watercolor, Flashe, crayon, colored pencil, fabric, and hand-colored canvas on canvas

Collection of Nancy and David Frej

Self is interested in the bodega as a vital public space of social life but also a paradoxical site, where nourishment often exists in its least healthy forms and poverty confronts excess. The man in Racer, sporting a brightly colored racing jacket, sits on a milk crate facing rows of the same brand of laundry detergent that appears on the back of his jacket, a gesture to corporate sponsorship, a culture of cleanliness, and the ubiquity of mass- produced consumer goods. Growing up in Harlem, Self recalls seeing such branded attire repurposed as streetwear, a creative re-appropriation that she identifies with black American culture’s innovative contributions to style, fashion, music, and pop culture. In Racer and Thank You (on view nearby), Self suspends the primary figures in a picture plane between the bodega’s shelves and the viewer, an approach to constructing her paintings influenced, in part, by the American artist Romare Bearden, whose photocollages of urban street scenes presented figures and crowds against graphic backdrops.


Romare Bearden, The Dove, 1964. Cut-and-pasted photo reproductions and paper, gouache, pencil, and colored pencil on cardboard. 13 ⅜ × 18 ¾ in. (34 × 47.6 cm.). Blanchette Rockefeller Fund (377.1971). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, New York. Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

A large mixed- media painting depicts the abstracted figure of a man in a tank top and sneakers standing on a sidewalk holding a beer can and the leg of another figure in red gingham pants that appears to have just walked out of the frame.

Lite, 2018
Acrylic, Flashe, milk paint, fabric, and gum on canvas

Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, acquired through the generosity of the Acquisitions Circle, Tristin and Martin Mannion, Rob Larsen, Patrick Planeta and Santiago Varela, and anonymous donors

In 2017, Self began a project titled Bodega Run centered on the people, products, and everyday activities that make up the ubiquitous urban corner store. Lite is exemplary of her expanded interests from the interior of the bodega to the street scenes and interactions adjacent to it. Self describes the central figure in this painting as a somewhat derelict character, his open can of “lite” beer and turned out pocket suggestive of his state. The character’s omnipresence in the neighborhood is reinforced by the way he blends into the deli’s exterior wall, merging with the store’s signage. A red checkered leg, which wraps around the edge of the canvas, suggests another figure energetically striding past him. “Unnoticed by the woman in the frame,” says Self, “he would most likely go unnoticed if he were a real man in real life. And if not unnoticed—most definitely ignored.” The work thematizes the tension between movement and stasis, between attention and inattention all the while drawing attention to the everyday surfaces of city life, such as the piece of gum stuck to the canvas’ sidewalk.


Shorty, 2019
Steel, sand, chicken wire, denim, polyester fiber, plaster gauze, acrylic, Flashe, and automotive paint

Milkcrate, 2019
Laser cut medium-density fiberboard and automotive paint

Courtesy Tschabalala Self Studio

The sculptures in this gallery push the limits of figuration in Self’s art: they are exercises in taking the body as far into abstraction as possible in order to understand the minimal amount of information required to read it as a body. Shorty began with a pair of the artist’s old jeans that she intuitively transformed through additive sculptural means. It is perched atop another sculpture fabricated in the image of a plastic milk crate. The common milk crate is an all-purpose, inexpensive, and portable shipping and storage bin (the artist uses them to store fabric scraps in her studio), often used for small-scale food deliveries or to hold products for restocking shelves. They appear as a motif in Self’s Bodega series as a symbol of creative repurposing: in Racer (shown nearby), a figure sits atop one. In the sculptures on view here, the milk crate functions as a pedestal or plinth, presenting an ambiguous and partial body as a thing to be revered.


Pocket, 2019
Plaster gauze, mirrored plexiglass, aluminum, polyester fiber, acrylic, Flashe, and automotive paint

Milkcrate, 2019
Laser cut medium-density fiberboard and automotive paint

Courtesy Tschabalala Self Studio

SELF_Pant_2018 HR.jpg

Pant, 2018
Oil, Flashe, acrylic paint, fabric, paper, and exposed thread on canvas

Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Iris and Adam C. Singer

SELF_Loner_2016 HR(web)

Loner, 2016
Painted canvas, Flashe, acrylic, and colored pencil on canvas

Collection of Craig Robins

SELF_Sock_2018 MR.jpg

Sock, 2018
Oil, Flashe, acrylic, fabric, and white cotton socks on canvas

Courtesy Tschabalala Self Studio


Origin, 2018
Oil, Flashe, acrylic, and fabric on canvas

Courtesy Tschabalala Self Studio

This painting was made in response to the artwork of the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who imbued organic forms with an uncanny, often surreal, abstraction. Here, Self combines the sexual independence of the flower, drawing on a language of fertility that O’Keeffe often took as a focal point, with the reproductive symbolism of the female figure, who herself blossoms before us. In Origin, the nude figure’s splayed posture, which forms an infinity loop, suggests the self-perpetuating sexuality of the botanical. Her floral-patterned, pear-shaped pelvis, reveals as its seed a vagina: a connection to the womb and the reproductive capacity of a woman’s body. Red-and- white-striped patterns draw the eye to the figure’s chest, thighs, and fertile core, while textures of chiffon and faux leather suggest a unique personal style. Origin differs in character but shares details with other works in this gallery: for example, the same stripe and polka-dot patterns appear on the figure in Sock (2018), which is equally performative of masculinity. By contrast, the dark figure in Pant (2018), which suggests sexual ambiguity and fluidity, bears only a trace of the striped fabric on their cheek and eyebrow, a single polka dot forming their left eye.


Tschabalala Self: Out of Body is organized by Ellen Tani and Ruth Erickson, Mannion Family Curator.

Tschabalala Self: Out of Body is presented by Max Mara.

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This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Additional support is generously provided by Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté, Ted Pappendick and Erica Gervais Pappendick, The Coby Foundation, Ltd, and the Jennifer Epstein Fund for Women Artists.

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