Skip to main content

No results found

Hanborough Gate banner
What's On, Culture, Art

Oxford Unfiltered - August

Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance

divider
Philip Baldwin
Claudette Johnson Reclining Figure
Claudette Johnson Reclining Figure

Modern Art Oxford is known for its groundbreaking exhibitions and

Claudette Johnson Seven Bullets
Claudette Johnson - Seven Bullets

Claudette Johnson’s ‘I Came to Dance’ is no exception.

Johnson was born in Manchester and in the 1980s became a key member of the Blk Art Group, which had originally been formed in Wolverhampton. Johnson is at the forefront of black feminist art and explores the way in which black women have been depicted in Western art.

Thirty of her predominantly large scale pieces are displayed throughout the galleries. The works show black women, in a variety of poses, many clothed but sometimes nude.

Throughout the exhibition I was repeatedly challenged and surprised. A range of influences are apparent in her works. The catalogue points out references to Egon Schiele, Willem de Kooning, Paul Klee and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Her use of pastel as a medium, with its particular delicacy, made me reflect on the great French pastelists of the 18th century.

Claudette Johnson Figure with Figurine
Claudette Johnson - Figure with Figurine

I found ‘Figure with Figurine’, painted in 2019, particularly interesting. It juxtaposes an image of a clothed black woman with that of an idealised and scantily clad African sculpture. My initial reaction was to think of Picasso, who vaunted the beauty of African carvings and had a number in his studio. Picasso helped to bring these art works into the mainstream consciousness, but also set a precedent for the way in which they are perceived.

Naming the exhibition ‘I Came to Dance’ is a reflection on the relationship between the role of dance in Afro-Caribbean culture, its often sensuous nature, but also a criticism of the way in which this has been distorted and stereotyped within Western society.

Johnson often invites her sitters to select a pose which they consider reflective of them, does not include their names, or place them within a specific location. The women she portrays transcend time and individual identity, giving them an iconic status. Johnson shows us what real African women look like. They are proud, empowered and must be seen.

Claudette Johnson ‘I Came to Dance' runs until 8 September at Modern Art Oxford

Twitter Icon @philipcbaldwin

Claudette Johnson Trilogy

RECOMMENDED

gecko mtg a little space 2019 tom woollard 1
Tue 25 Feb 2020

Two of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies,Gecko and Mind the Gap, are to bring their first co-production to the Oxford Playhouse on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 March. A Little Space

Mark Thomas 1
Fri 21 Feb 2020

Love-Powered Politics

With Mark Thomas

Comedian, journalist and political satirist Mark Thomas rings in at the beginning of his tour of 50 Things About Us – the new show which falls halfway between theatre and stand-up –

191122 Simple Minds Shot01 0476 v4
Wed 19 Feb 2020

One of the most successful and iconic UK bands of all time, the 60 million-selling, international chart-toppers Simple Minds are the latest act lined up to headline the Nocturne Live concert

The Whip 1 lo res
Tue 18 Feb 2020

Review: The Whip

A reminder rife with symbolism, of a 200-year-old bailout

When Katherine Pearce’s Horatia Poskitt is beaten up by a policeman at the close of The Whip’s first half, I confess my attention had lulled a tad. But for its slightly dryer moments,