Jessie Makinson · Tonia Nneji · Nengi Omuku · Samantha Rosenwald · Ilana Savdie · Constanza Schaffner · Lee Simmonds · Didier William · Qualeasha Wood · Hiroka Yamashita
Pippy Houldsworth Gallery is delighted to present Dancing in Dark Times, an exhibition of new paintings and textiles exploring the evolving exchange between the bodies we occupy, the world we inhabit and the images we create. Bringing together an international group of artists – many of whom are showing in the UK for the first time – the exhibition presents a dynamic response to contemporary figuration.
Dancing in Dark Times explores the different ways in which each artist approaches the body to dance in defiance. Adapting a line by Bertold Brecht, the exhibition’s title speaks to optimism in the face of the upheaval of the past year – a time during which our physicality has gained renewed significance.
Artists explore possibilities for marginalised bodies to take up space in the world, confronting notions of visibility. Didier William’s practice draws from mythology and the artist’s Haitian heritage. In Dèyè Fèy Mango a mesh of yellow leaves covers the surface of the painting, acting as a frame that shapes and distances the access to its two wrestling bodies. From the perspective of a queer, black woman, Qualeasha Wood addresses voyeurism and performance through her tactile compositions that combine textiles with digital media.
Surface and texture further examine physicality and closeness with the skin. Nengi Omuku uses the body as an anchor to express psychological states. Painted on unstretched Sanyan cloth – a Nigerian fabric traditionally used for draped clothing – the proportions of each work are informed by those of the body. Tonia Nneji also combines figuration and fabric to address trauma. Acting as a focal point in the composition, textiles envelop her women with material and visual protection.
Adornment, together with distortion, challenges normative expectations surrounding the body. Constanza Schaffner’s self-portraits present intense perspectives onto faces fractured with psychedelic patterns or feathered embellishment, while Ilana Savdie exaggerates and abstracts limbs as a form of mockery and resistance. Embracing ambiguity, Savdie’s figures to take up space beyond boundaries that distinguish between individual, costume or environment. Samantha Rosenwald’s approach is similarly rooted in an incisive sense of humour. Examining gendered beauty standards, Rosenwald finds unsettling pleasure in the obsessive striving towards effortless perfectionism.
Elsewhere figures dissolve into dreamlike pattern or abstraction. In Jessie Makinson’s surreal tableau, female bodies are overrun with vivid colour and pattern: this instability of surface blurs distinctions between nature, artifice, fantasy and reality. Moving between humour, surrealism and the macabre, Lee Simmonds constructs his protagonists with loose brushstrokes and a vibrant palette, embracing the physicality of paint and the body. Hiroka Yamashita deftly moves between figuration and abstraction to explore the deep connection between humans and the landscape. Her ephemeral paintings touch on history, memory and the passing of time.
 In the dark times, / will there also be singing? / Yes, there will be singing / about the dark times.