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Lubaina Himid, The Operating Table, 2019

A self-described “painter and a cultural activist,” Lubaina Himid rose to prominence in the 1980s as a pioneer of the British Black Arts Movement and a staunch advocate for the contributions of women of color to the visual arts. Organizing groundbreaking shows in community-centered or disused spaces as well as preeminent London institutions, Himid created sites for Black artists and communities to exhibit and to congregate. Her 1985 ICA exhibition The Thin Black Line, for instance, manifested a more inclusive vision of contemporary art in the UK, showing her own work and that of her peers in institutional settings typically denied to them.

Himid’s curatorial priorities also extend to her own art, which over the past decade has gained international acclaim for exposing the human toll of empire while affirming the centrality of Black subjects. Trained in theater design, her practice unfurls across a range of media—from traditional canvas to life-sized cut-outs in elaborate scenes, to sculptural installations that repurpose domestic objects. For example, Himid’s celebrated mixed-media tableau, A Fashionable Marriage (1986) both appropriates and subverts William Hogarth’s satiric painting, Marriage A-la-Mode (1743). Echoing the historical work’s themes of societal hedonism and greed, she updates Hogarth’s stock characters to reflect the power imbalances that that still steer the art world.

Born in Zanzibar in 1954, Himid immigrated to London as an infant, and maritime themes of arrival or displacement recur in her work—nods to both her own origins and the wider experience of the African diaspora. Troubling details can emerge from seductively rendered, jewel-toned scenes—as Fred Moten has noted, Himid’s “celebration in, and of, color” also reinforces her seriousness of purpose, becoming “the ultimate solemnity.” Bold in line and vibrant in hue, her recent paintings combine stylized depiction and psychological depth, reimagining the relations that might have been between people whose lives and stories were otherwise lost. “Characters are not always in the same time zone or history zone,” Himid has said. “They crisscross through time and talk to each other (and you) about how the past holds clues to the present, and is a place of potential action.”

Installation view, Lubaina Himid, Tate Modern, London, 2021

Lubaina Himid, CBE, lives and works in Preston, England, and is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Central Lancashire. Her work will be the subject of a two-person exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation, opening October 29. Himid is the recipient of the fourth Maria Lassnig Prize (2023), with a related upcoming exhibition at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. She will be the 2024 recipient of the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize, with related solo exhibitions at The Contemporary Austin and the FLAG Art Foundation, New York.

Himid is the recipient of the Turner Prize (2017) and was the subject of a major survey at Tate Modern in 2021-22. Other recent solo exhibitions include Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland (2022); Hollybush Gardens (2022, 2019, 2018, 2103); Tate Britain, London (2019); Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands (2019); CAPC Bordeaux, France (2019); New Museum, New York (2019); Spike Island, Bristol, UK (2017); and Modern Art Oxford (2017). Her work is in the collections of the Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; National Museums, Liverpool; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; Tate, London; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, among others.

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