Trauma weighs heavy on the body. Everlyn Nicodemus knows that feeling well. After years of enduring racist abuse and humiliation across Europe, the African artist suffered a breakdown, a brutal experience she describes as near-death. The works in this show are how she fought to reclaim her identity, her body and her sense of self.
It starts with 12 bare, monochrome, almost-identical images of two figures in a room. They’re stood in silhouette, the atmosphere is menacing and suffocating. The series is called ‘The Widow and the Shadow’, which implies that the threat here is from grief itself, ever-present and looming, but this feels somehow more violent than that.
There’s a recent series of collages on display showing figures dancing across pages of French poetry, but the real heart of the show is ‘The Wedding’, a collection of bright, primary coloured self-portraits from 1991 to 1992, right after her breakdown.
They’re big, bold things, filled with vast patches of flat red and blue, with black faces emerging out of the colour. They nod heavily to Matisse and Picasso, but these aren’t just art-historical exercises, they’re private, personal outpourings of unbridled emotion. This is a black woman finding her feet again after untold pain, figuring herself out in paint. I don’t think they’re all great paintings, but each one is undeniably, beautifully moving.