Turner Prize-winning artist Lubaina Himid presents Our Kisses are Petals, a solo show of new work in BALTIC’s Ground Floor gallery. As part of her exhibition at BALTIC, Himid will also present a community-focused outdoor commission.
Our Kisses are Petals originates from new paintings on cloth that employ the patterns, colours and symbolism of the Kanga, a vibrant cotton fabric traditionally worn by East African women as a shawl, head scarf, baby carrier, or wrapped around the waist. Typically, kangas consist of three parts: the pindo (border), the mji (central motif), and the jina (message or ‘name’), which often takes the form of a riddle or proverb.
For Himid, these multicoloured fabrics are ‘speaking clothes’, which employ ‘the language of image, pattern and text through which one woman’s outfit talks to another’s’. Himid’s works engage in a dialogue with each other and with the viewer, both through their individual jina, borrowed from influential writers just as James Baldwin, Sonia Sanchez, Essex Hemphill and Audre Lorde, and through the invitation for visitors to rearrange the hanging works by a system of pulleys to form their own poetry.
The suspended Kangas take on a flag-like quality, which, together with the colours and patterns of the fabrics, evoke regimental and ceremonial colonial flag-bearing. Through disrupting the familiar aesthetics and function of flags, the artist raises questions of belonging and identity, asking participants to create their own narratives and begin new conversations.
Across the various flags, the artist depicts inner body parts, such as the inside of an eye socket, to provide an alternative way of reading the accompanying phrases, and offer a deeper understanding of that which we share in humanity. Hemphill’s words ‘Our kisses are petals, our tongues caress the bloom’ prompt careful consideration of the language we use to express ourselves, together with the actions we undertake as they ultimately form the world we all endure.
Himid will also explore the role of flags in British culture through producing a major outdoor commission for Great Exhibition of the North from 22 June this year. This element of the project will be presented in tandem with a weekly programme of free public events every Sunday, including performances and community happenings. Working alongside artist Richard Bliss, Himid seeks to collaborate with and give visibility to marginalised creative communities.
Within these events, the gallery becomes a renewed focus for activity through live performance, poetry and music. The flag that sits atop BALTIC will be raised as a commentary on processes associated within ceremony, subverting such traditions by asking us ‘Why are you looking?’ and encouraging us to question and contemplate our own views.