The boundary between inside and outside is blurred in Le Rodeur: The Pulley – suggesting a stage set or a dream. Two women wearing contemporary clothes occupy a minimalist environment with modernist furniture and a blue pool set into the floor. A pulley and rope system is supported on slim poles above their heads. A piece of dark fabric decorated with small circular forms flutters like clothing on a washing line. Set against a view of a raging sea, the sight of the pulley deftly suggests we are looking simultaneously at a room and the deck of a ship. Adding to the ambiguity, a strip of diamond shapes runs diagonally across the yellow floor, and partly over the pool. Abstract patterns commonly feature in Lubaina Himid’s work – a childhood influence she credits to her mother, a textile designer, who frequently took her to see designs at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
This painting reflects ideas that are personal to the artist, as well as wider social and historical themes. Himid’s works often explore the complexity of emotional relationships between women, depicting them either alone or together. In this painting, there is an unexplained but palpable tension between the two figures. They turn away from each other, yet their feet almost touch, suggesting a shared intimate connection.
Le Rodeur is a series of paintings that Himid started in 2016, each of which depict figures in a marine setting. Le Rodeur (‘The Spear’) was a 19th century French slave ship that, in April 1819, departed the Bight of Biafra for Guadeloupe. On board were 162 African slaves and a crew of 22. Many were struck by a debilitating disease that caused blindness during the journey. Deeming the slaves commercially ‘worthless’, the captain ordered that 36 were thrown overboard. In time, everyone on board became blind, except for one man, who eventually sought help from another ship. This story brings another rich layer to Himid’s painting. A pulley’s function aids the transfer of power – here its presence suggests that sudden shift of power between the European colonial crew and the African slaves, where both succumbed to the same fate, regardless of position or privilege.
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