Tate Britain exhibition review: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye – Fly in league with the night

Tate Britain presents the first major survey of the work of British contemporary artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b.1977). Widely considered to be one of the most important figurative painters working today, Yiadom-Boakye is celebrated for her enigmatic oil paintings of human subjects who are entirely imagined by the artist. This exhibition brings together over 70 paintings spanning almost two decades, including works from her graduate exhibition and new paintings shown for the first time.

I was lucky to visit this new exhibition with the talented Italian artist Giovanna O’Halloran-Bindi who provided me with really interesting insights into the London artist: “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye conveys a relaxing approach to life through laid back poses and expressions in people’s faces. Many individuals portrayed here have no shoes as a link to their tribal roots, a sign of a deep connection with earth and nature and a celebration of life.
The frequent squares and geometric shapes shown in objects (such as post modern sofas) and clothes tell us that the artist wants to stay in the family and society framework. All objects and animals in Linette’s art are meaningful. The parrot becomes a symbol of the artist’s connection to Africa.
The cross and cross-shaped paintings show her humble religious connection and her mystic values. Animals like the owl, the cat, the fox are tribal symbols that show that the artist believes in shamanic powers. The feathers and the fox fur scarves that adorn necks are not just a mere reminder of a vintage look and feel that bring us back to the Sixties but they somehow also mask a certain shyness and express a hidden sexuality. The vases with flowers inside the houses are not just casual accessories to the backdrops of the paintings but reveal a nostalgic view of nature that comes into the homes.”
I personally feel that the figures in Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings are both familiar and mysterious. Each of her works is created from a composite archive of found images and her own imagination, raising questions of identity and representation. Her paintings are created in spontaneous and instinctive bursts, revealing expressive, short brushstrokes and a distinctive palette of dark, dramatic tones contrasted with flashes of brightness. By stripping away the signifiers of any particular era, her figures seem to exist outside of a specific time or place, inviting viewers to project their own narratives, memories and interpretations. Surveying the development of Yiadom-Boakye’s unique formal language from 2003 to the present day, the exhibition includes early paintings such as First, created for her postgraduate exhibition at the Royal Academy Schools in 2003, alongside more recent examples of her best-known paintings including Complication 2013 and No Need of Speech 2018.

Monica Costa and Giovanna O’Halloran-Bindi at the LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE exhibition

Writing is central to Yiadom-Boakye’s artistic practice, as she has explained: “I write about the things I can’t paint and paint the things I can’t write about.” Her paintings are coupled with poetic, seemingly unrelated titles, such as Tie the Temptress to the Trojan 2016 and To Improvise a Mountain 2018. This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue including writing by Yiadom-Boakye, the exhibition curators, and the American poet and writer Elizabeth Alexander, as well as a public programme of events within the gallery.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was born in 1977 in London, where she lives and works today. She is of Ghanaian descent and in 2019 participated in the critically acclaimed Ghana Freedom pavilion at the International Venice Biennale. In 2018 she was awarded the prestigious Carnegie International Prize and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2013. Her work is represented in museum collections around the world and she has exhibited internationally including solo exhibitions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2017); the Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2016); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2015); and the Serpentine Gallery, London (2015).

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night is curated by Andrea Schlieker, Director of Exhibitions and Displays, Tate Britain and Isabella Maidment, Curator of Contemporary British Art with Aïcha Mehrez, Assistant Curator, Contemporary British Art. The exhibition is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with Moderna Museet, Stockholm, KunstsammlungNordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, and Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’ArtModerne Grand-Duc Jean.

It’s open daily between 10.00 and 18.00. 

All four Tate galleries will be open to the public from today for more information please call +44(0)20 7887 8888 or visit www.tate.org.uk/visit.

I love the Tate Britain’s Mondrian type of decor

Tate Britain is very festive this week!

Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
Please arrive via the Manton entrance on Atterbury Street

2 December 2020 – 9 May 2021

Related Features: 

Tate Britain exhibition review: Turner’s Modern World 28 October 2020 – 7 March 2021

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