‘Singing and songwriting are my first love — those are the art forms that come naturally — but I’ve always gravitated towards paint, canvas, photography and sculpture,’ says Mashonda Tifrere, who has curated Note to Self, a selling exhibition at Christie’s in London opening on 28 March 2023.
A keen collector who bought her first work of art at the age of 20 (an Ansel Adams photograph), Mashonda describes the exhibition as an expression of ‘joy, wisdom and feminine sovereignty’.
Note to Self features 15 international female artists, with very different experiences, reflecting on what it means to be a woman in the world today.
All of the work is wildly imaginative and ambitious: there are monochrome scenes of family life by LaToya M. Hobbs; intricately pattered abstracts by Bahar Bambi reminiscent of Persian carpet motifs; and thick impasto paintings reflecting on women’s mental health by Sabrina Coleman-Pinheiro.
Many of the artists use painting to question where the Black aesthetic fits into the history of avant-garde art while not forgetting its own cultural and civil struggles. All bring a new set of references to image-making.
The Californian artist Megan Gabrielle Harris situates her women in unreal yet hypnotically believable spaces. The atmosphere is dreamy and enigmatic, not unlike a painting by Paul Gauguin. ‘My subjects rest, daydream, they indulge, they travel and they are fulfilled in their own company,’ she says. ‘My intentions are to glorify and focus on all of these aspects of Black women simply existing and having pleasurable experiences.’
The Nigerian artist Enighe Amba also draws on early modern influences. Her sharply defined paintings of women are set against luminous Klimt-like backgrounds, throwing intense focus on the subjects’ regal faces. Their rich, glowing colours stand in contrast to the sublime blues of the Liberian-born artist Lewinale Havette — from deep ultramarine to icy cyan — used to convey a sense of magic. ‘In my studio, I explore and convert memories, visions, and dreams into artwork that requires a touch of the supernatural,’ she says.
Mashonda has selected works that reflect her own ‘personal journey and awakening’, showcasing artists from the United States to Nigeria and Germany. Whether figurative or abstract, painted, photographed or assembled from mixed media, these richly inventive works share a visual vibrancy and bold sense of self-affirmation.
The exhibition is also an opportunity for Mashonda to showcase the emerging talent supported by her platform Art LeadHER, which she founded in 2016 after becoming frustrated with the lack of work by women artists on show in museums and galleries around the world. ‘I wanted to change that narrative and break glass ceilings,’ she says.
Art LeadHER is the culmination of a long-held desire to confront sexism and bigotry in the creative industries. ‘I want to create a safe space for women to show their work,’ she says, ‘to build a community and have a platform where women can speak about their journey and practice.’
The exhibition coincides with the launch of Mashonda’s new EP, also titled Note to Self, which she describes as ‘a beautiful sonic gift of self-reflection and inner transformation’.
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‘I wanted to visualise the music with art by women I deem compelling and profound, ethereal and fierce,’ she says. The result is an exhibition that serves as visual activism, communicating a powerful sense of history, identity and female solidarity.
In conjunction with the exhibition, a panel discussion will be held on 29 March at Christie’s in London. The event is supported by the Christie’s Fund, established to broaden access to arts education and careers, as well as to use the Christie’s brand, platform and resources to develop and promote emerging artists