The collage-like work of Tschabalala Self examines the voyeurism and fantasies that surround the idea of feminine beauty. As concepts of blackness and femininity continually evolve, Self has dedicated herself to naming the phenomenon that forcibly frames our contemporary understanding of the black body in a collective fantasy.
bout Gut Feelings, Self says, “The narrative is embedded within an intimate space. The relationship between instinct and intimacy is explored and moments of intense feeling and affect are highlighted. Hesitation to accept the unknown conflicts with my subjects’ desire to be known.”
Whether with another figure in the frame or an external onlooker, the women in Self’s paintings are unafraid and unmoved by the viewer’s gaze, confronting them with fixed stares of their own. Portraying the power of femininity via portraiture, these individuals radiate an internal strength, one that is both immediate and isolating.
Combining an array of patterned fabrics and painted canvas, Self constructs the female form in vivid ways. The series of intimate moments shows characters with elongated limbs, their bodies’ parts created from compelling clusters of materials. Creative acts are left unveiled; strands of thread twist through scenes, their looping paths often acting as textured borders rather than essential bindings.
The making substantiates the subject matter: by incorporating pieces of material from old paintings, prints, clothing, and paper, Self illustrates the countless influences, both past and present, that shape personal identity. Multiplicity and possibility are essential to her practice. The self isn’t fixed, but rather constantly being reassessed and reassembled. The people portrayed as fractured assemblages internalize a number of cultural projections, while asserting their own individual presence and significance.