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‘Beneath the Surface’ is a group show curated by Lehmann Maupin Director Isabella Icoz, bringing together the work of Heidi Bucher, Alex Gardner, Lubaina Himid, Shirazeh Houshiary, Araba Opoku, and Calida Rawles – six artists who engage with water as medium, metaphor, and artistic method.

Lubaina Himid, Venetian Maps (Kings), 1997. Acrylic on canvas, 152.5 x 213.5cm. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin London.

For many of the artists in ‘Beneath the Surface’, water is a vehicle for the act of making, and the natural properties and movement of water define their processes and take shape on the canvas. For others, the presence of water creates metaphorical or literal opportunities for the exploration of cultural and personal histories. The exhibition asks the viewer to consider water beyond the everyday, positioning it instead as a lens through which to consider these works. The artists in ‘Beneath the Surface’ call attention to water as a life force, a resource, an inhabitable space, and a functional material.

Signature works by Alex Gardner, Lubaina Himid, and Calida Rawles depict images of water in order to explore the construction of identity and its intersection with history. In her most recent pastel works, Rawles continues her investigation of water as both a multifaceted physical material and a historically charged space for Black bodies. She seeks to reclaim bodies of water as a space for healing and discovery. In Lubaina Himid’s series ‘Venetian Maps‘, the artist pays tribute to the water-bound city of Venice, imagining the city’s canals as repositories of its secrets; their murky waters conceal lost or forgotten objects and bear witness to countless historical narratives – as well as the pollution and erosion caused by climate change and boat traffic.

Heidi Bucher, Shirazeh Houshiary, and Araba Opoku employ water as integral to their medium or process of making, rendering images of water and capturing its effects. In her 1980s series ‘Wasserzeichnung / Water drawings’, Bucher uses gestural brushstrokes in watercolour and gouache to create “water still lifes.” In Araba Opoku’s practice, the artist utilises water as a medium to create imagery that both considers water as a sociopolitical resource and mimics its physical effects. Based in Accra, where access to water is often inhibited, Opoku’s work stems from highly personal experience. Her paintings emphasise the tension between water’s freely uninhibited nature and humankind’s regulation of water supplies, establishing the element as a source of both life and suffering.

Together, the artists in ‘Beneath the Surface’ seek to locate new and complex definitions of water, full of material and conceptual contradictions, contextualising it as a repository of history, a crucial life-source plagued by inequitable access, and a vital material for creative production. Above all, the exhibition pursues the utopian potential offered by water; ‘Beneath the Surface’ gestures towards a world where all histories are confronted, identities embraced, and resources shared.

The exhibition will be on view from the 18th of January until the 4th of March, 2023. For more information, please visit Lehman Maupin London.

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