19th May 2023

Dates: 19 – 29 May 2023
Open: 12 -6pm (closed on Mondays)
Private View: 19th May 2023

Tova McKenzie-Bassant began using collage as a way to experiment with her early paintings.
She would tear her canvases apart and then attempt to put them back together again, to form something new. This dual process of destruction and creation mirrors her ongoing personal and artistic investigation of identity.

At Lewisham Arthouse, McKenzie-Bassant presents a selection of works from her series Perspectives. Starting as small collages made using images from magazines, books and her own photography, the final works are printed onto sheets of reflective aluminium which come to life when exposed to light. In one work, a tailor stands directly under a large moon, cloth and scissors in hand. As I walk in front of it, the reflection shifts suddenly, turning the bright full moon into a shadowy eclipse. The tailor wields their instrument in a powerful grip: sharp scissors, bite open and ready to participate in their own process of destruction and creation. The blank white cloth beside them seems to be a metaphor for the opportunity to shape and create new narratives, new ways of being and of being perceived. As a process, collage can reveal the fictions at play in the way that we construct the world around us: a way to remove and to embellish, to rearrange and create new realities. It’s hardly surprising therefore that over the last decade collage has emerged as a popular and incisive medium for so many artists of the African diaspora.

Like the majority of figures in Perspectives, the tailor’s face is covered in a roughly applied mask, this one made from yoghurt. McKenzie-Bassant’s use of white masks references Frantz Fanon’s seminal text Black Skin, White Masks and W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of ‘double- consciousness’ – that colonised and subjugated people see themselves through the eyes of their oppressors. Throughout the exhibition, McKenzie-Bassant’s own face appears behind each mask in a series of guises, the repetition creating an unsettling feeling. In one work, hands desperately grasp at faces and masks that slip towards the pavement taking on lives and expressions of their own. In another, she sports a small moustache and bowler hat in the style of Charlie Chaplin, an ironic nod to the performance of identity.

Since devouring illustrated encyclopedias as a child, McKenzie-Bassant has retained a strong admiration for the old masters. In Perspectives, she reimagines celebrated paintings by artists including Jacques-Louis David and Caravaggio, shifting contexts to disrupt the familiar scenes. Playing on symbols of power found in portraits of the aristocracy, one work features a woman in a sumptuous red dress, an oversized hand holding a tiny globe. In another, a Narcissus figure gazes intently into a pool of water, but nothing is reflected back. It is simply a void filled with longing or emptiness; perhaps a wry comment on the search for self-identity. Several of the figures occupy wild landscapes or clamber through forests, searching for something lost or unobtainable. Art writer Jean Fisher, McKenzie-Bassant’s tutor at Goldsmiths, impressed on her that ‘process carries meaning’. In keeping with this idea, I see Perspectives as a visual exploration of the process to understand identity – a journey, it appears, with no fixed destination.

Debbie Meniru, Assistant Curator Hayward Gallery, April 2023