Arcade are pleased to present our 1st solo exhibition with Grace Ndiritu.
A green leaf grows over the glossy page of a fashion magazine. Hand-applied paint turns a Gucci ad into an abstraction. An Ebola fighter peeks out from under splotches of sky-blue on the cover of Time. These are a few of the impressions that mark an encounter with Post-Hippie Pop Abstraction. This work, which Ndiritu began in 2015, explores “the idea of the sweatshop from three juxtaposing yet overlapping angles”–the artist examines how indigenous tribes, studio artists, and third world workers all labor for the New Age, art, and luxury fashion markets, respectively. In each case, these workers, who are disenfranchised to varying degrees, produce aesthetics and products for the elite. What begins as authentic culture and creativity is transformed through global processes into commodities for the West. The solution to this, Ndiritu proposes in her work, is a return–to a connection with nature, to an appreciation for materiality, to centering the most vulnerable among us.
For the artist, this project began when she was a teenager in her bedroom. Imbibing seemingly disparate influences such as Vogue magazine, the teachings of the Dalai Lama, and Maasai culture, the teenaged Ndiritu synthesized these sources of inspiration into collages on her bedroom wall. Fast forward to 2014, to a secluded artist residency in Galveston, an island off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, during the Ebola pandemic. Ndiritu describes Galveston as a surreal intersection of tropical island life, cowboys, oil drilling, dolphins, 80s gay culture, and a world-renowned medical research center. In her studio there, Ndiritu’s cultural references coalesced in the first phase of the ongoing body of work entitled Post-Hippie Pop-Abstraction. The work takes Ndiritu “back to her roots” and her fated meeting with Bret Easton Ellis when Ndiritu was a late teen studying fashion and textiles. Her reading of his novel Glamorama, which follows a group of international fashion models who also happen to be terrorists, inspired in Ndiritu’s interest in “the surface of things.” Many years later, she began to explore the “dark side of New Age culture, hippies, fashion, and the art world.”
Galveston is linked directly and indirectly to this “dark side”– for instance, the constant cargo ships that pass on their way to Houston, the second busiest port in the United States, to the nearby oil platforms and mines which provide raw materials for luxury markets. Ndiritu alludes to this in a number of her works – look closely at Galveston Postcard, and you’ll see an image of a mine woven into the collage. A found object, the postcard nods to Ndiritu’s process. The artist collects objects from thrift stores and “brings them together through paint,” following in the footsteps of Texas painter and graphic artist Robert Rauschenberg, another key teen inspiration of Ndiritu’s. Her work also brings to mind the artist Lorna Simpson, who creates painted collages using images from Ebony and Jet magazines to probe narrow views of gender, culture, and beauty, and who recently applied this approach in an Essence photo shoot with Rihanna.
Move through the exhibition, and you’ll see seemingly out-of-place references–athletes, healthcare workers–become motifs. The images of football players are for Ndiritu references to masculinity, competition, and the financial markets that the work critiques. The muscular athletes provide a counterpoint to the bone-thin models in Vogue and other fashion magazines, and the sexist, fatphobic culture that demands of women a thin, fit body. The images of healthcare workers allude to global pandemics–at the time of Ndiritu’s Galveston residency, the threat of Ebola loomed over the globe. The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston was awarded millions of dollars to find a cure and eventually developed the first effective experimental Ebola vaccine. Today, our instinct is to read the images of masked doctors as references to COVID-19, our most recent shared human experience. But by transcending time, these references speak to how pandemics reveal the circularity of time, our interconnectedness, and the relevance of Ndiritu’s painted collages today. In this way, the content of the work mirrors its form, its themes connecting the works across the gallery. Looking at the pieces in relation to each other is critical in this exhibition, as together, they form what we can understand to be Post-Hippie Pop-Abstraction. This is a gesamtwerk, a vision of our relationships with the earth, with beauty, and with each other, cohering across multiple explorations.
(Ifeanyi Awachie, 2022)
The exhibition is accompanied by 2 video works from the series ‘Community’ on view in the lower ground floor space.
Grace Ndiritu is currently artist in residence at S.M.A.K. Gent, BE
Ndiritu initiated the Healing the Museum project ten years ago. Concerned with the ‘dying’ museum, she introduced non-rational methodologies – such as shamanism and group meditation – in the hope of reanimating the space, sharing it and making it ethical. Ndiritu will continue this project during her residency at S.M.A.K. By means of group sessions and research into the permanent collection, she will endeavour to grasp the museum’s spiritual history. This end result will be an exhibition project featuring both new and existing work, scheduled for Spring 2023.
Current and upcoming exhibitions include: The British Art Show #9 (2021-22) and a solo exhibition at Photography Museum of Antwerp (FOMU) (2023); the Museum recently acquired the 9th volume of her A Quest For Meaning (AQFM) series.
Her exhibition Being Together is now open at KRIEG? until 06.06.
Coach Trip: Arcade to KRIEG? with Grace Ndiritu Sunday June 5, leaving Arcade, Brussels at 13h return to Brussels 18h. Book here