Cool Conversations on the High Line

Lubaina Himid’s life-size painted portrait.

Walking along the High Line in Manhattan recently, my daughter, niece and I came across one of High Line Art’s En Plain Air exhibits. Brightly colored doors set on railroad ties featured women we wanted to stop and meet.

Lubaina Himid, a [British] artist from Zanzibar, Tanzania, create life-size portraits cut into silhouettes that stand freely as flat sculptures. These works have a theatrical quatlity, referencing stage sets and the simplified histories that dominate our world. With Five Conversations, Himid introduces five reclaimed wooden doors from traditional Georgian townhouses paint with portraits of everyday stylish women who love talking to each other. In her signature way, Himid brings the two-dimensional medium of painting into our three-dimensional world.

En Plain Air is a group exhibition that examines and expands the tradition of outdoor painting.

I didn’t know this artist so, of course, I needed to find out more.

A pioneer of the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s and ’90s, Lubaina Himid has long championed marginalized histories. Her drawings, paintings, sculptures, and textile works critique the consequences of colonialism and question the invisibility of people of color in art and the media. While larger historical narratives are often the driving force behind her images and installations, Himid’s works beckon viewers by attending to the unmonumental details of daily life. Bright, graphic, and rich in color and symbolic referents, her images recall history paintings and eighteenth-century British satirical cartoons. In many works, the presence of language and poetry—sometimes drawn from the work of writers such as Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, or James Baldwin—punctuates the silence of her images with commands, instructions, or utterances that are at once stark and tender.

Himid was born in Zanzibar in 1954 but moved to the UK with her mother, a textile designer, when she was only four months old. Himid said, “I was living with a woman who was constantly looking at the colour of things, at other people’s clothes. And we were constantly in shops, and we weren’t at shops buying things. We were in shops looking.”

My daughter and niece.
Check out the way the arches and path create a one point perspective.
I call this “City Jewelry” since the windows are diamonds.

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