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Love Hate: More than plot

Published: 
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Sit by Sabrina Charran

On the surface, Sabrina Charran’s first solo show of what were largely self-portraits, gave viewers a personal plot, a look at what has happened in her life: girl gets into a relationship with an abusive guy and she becomes his plaything—a piece of garbage.

The abuser threatens her with his menacing dog. Girl then gets involved with other men, a move fuelled by a complex mix of self-loathing and affection. She also explores an intimate bond with another woman. The sequence of events “ends” with her arrival at what might be deemed a place of self-acceptance. There is a difference between a plot and a story; in the series of paintings and prints, a multilayered story unfolded.

Charran’s show was a story about visual politics. The work featured a repeating motif of an artist brandishing a paintbrush in one hand and a bunch of bananas in the other. In some images the fruit alone were enough to symbolically conjure a visual regime laden with the making and appreciation of certain kinds of artworks. What value is given to works of art that depict recognisable forms: coconuts, pawpaw, banana, watermelon, mangoes, palm leaves, a vase of flowers? Which images sell? Where do abstract and conceptual art lie in a value scale of aesthetics? 

Ideas about asymmetrical power and visual appropriation were also evident in such works as Punch Inn, which echoed the reclining posture of a female nude in French artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ 1814 oil painting La Grande Odalisque. Ingres’ depiction was that of an exotic concubine in exaggerated form. Charran commandeered the image, painting herself as a Caribbean odalisque complete with headtie, in a fashion reminiscent of the work of Boscoe Holder, among others.

Of note is the hijacking of Ingres’ image in the 1980s by a group of feminist artists called the Guerilla Girls, who painted the odalisque with an ape’s head and the accompanying message: “Do Women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” Charran’s Punch Inn therefore told a story about intertextuality—the relationships among a number of visual texts across time and space.

A story about subverting homophobia was also palpable in the pieces titled Let’s Go. Yet, perhaps most importantly, the show was a story about telling and not telling. Some images were explicit and implied forms found in artist Steve Ouditt’s work Plantation Economy and Trademark Capital, while her paintings Blue Girls 1 and 2 were redolent of the line work and human figure rendering style of artist Shalini Seereeram.

Charran never mentioned names in her plot but information was both present and absent, available for a discerning eye and hiding in plain sight for those unaware of the visual connections. The gaps between each painting on the gallery walls also functioned as significant silences in her disclosure. In the end, viewers participated in a story of hushed tones rather than one told from the rooftops. 

Sabrina Charran’s mix of painterly and illustrative techniques was sufficiently strong for a first solo showing of work. What plots will drive her next series of images? It is hoped that those plots furnish a story for her—one about her moving from creative strength to strength.

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