As Stacey Gillian Abe’s debut solo exhibition Shrub-let of Old Ayivu is closing on 27th January, we invite you to delve deeper into her practice by taking a closer look at one of the highlight works, Under the Mistletoe.
Stacey Gillian Abe’s work reflects her past and her memories, highlighting her personal experiences and her relationships to her community. The autobiographical dimension of her work confronts traditional depictions of the Black body, drawing attention to more cerebral aspects and challenging the colonial lens. A crucial element of her portraiture is the colour indigo. The deep blue hues allow Abe to delve deeper into the complexities of colourism in the Black community, reshaping pre-constructed narratives.
Under the Mistletoe
Under the Mistletoe (2022) continues these themes of relaxation and repose. The painting centres on two figures, one nude and one partly covered, who seem to be in deep sleep side by side. The viewer has perhaps encroached on a private and vulnerable moment. The location is ambiguous, seemingly outside and inside, as the wooden bars above the sleeping figures resemble a makeshift pergola.
The transparent crystal penises that dangle above the two figures seem to symbolise an invisible male presence. It is as if these two female bodies have fully embraced their femininity and masculinity at once. Or, perhaps, these crystalline decorations remind us of the absence of the male body as two female bodies take centre stage. However, the two bodies together do not necessarily occupy the same space. For Abe, these are two separate people that share fragments of the same memories at different times. In the artist’s painterly space, time is unimportant as her figures are able to access multiple timelines through memory.
When conceiving the work, Abe was focused on memories of anticipation, asking herself various questions. What does anticipation look like? How does it feel to be expectant, tired and content at the same time? How can this be personified through painting? When thinking about the sounds of these emotions, Abe was reminded of the noises of crickets and frogs. When the artist was growing up, the sounds of crickets and frogs would echo from the swamp through her bedroom window in the evenings. At around 7pm, Abe’s mother would return home from work to the hum of these creatures. Abe would wait for the sounds of her mother’s footsteps, signalled by the buzzing of crickets and the croaking of frogs. A knock on the door would announce her mother’s arrival, letting Abe know that she had arrived home tired yet content. Her mother’s routine felt new to Abe each evening. As soon as the crickets and frogs began to sing, she would count down the moments until she heard the knock at the door, waiting for the sounds of her mother’s shoes approaching. In Abe’s exhibition, Shrub-let of Old Ayivu, the work is accompanied by a sound installation of crickets and frogs.
The figures hold pearl necklaces, depictions of the pearls that Abe’s mother gave to her years ago. Through the painting, Abe thinks about where these pearls came from; the oyster mirrors the shapes of female genitalia and the pearl is the fruit of its labour. For Abe, these pearls recall a time when her mother felt true contentment and rest. Wearing them was a sign of her feminine essence, an essence that has been passed down to Abe from her mother.
Stacey Gillian Abe
Under the Mistletoe
150 x 200 cm