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Tate Britain Commission: Alvaro Barrington: GRACE

  • May 29, 2024
  • 3 min read
Tate Britain Commission: Alvaro Barrington: GRACE

Tate Britain has unveiled GRACE, a major new commission by Alvaro Barrington. Bringing sound, painting and sculpture to the dramatic architecture of Tate Britain’s neo-classical Duveen Galleries, Barrington takes visitors on an intimate journey through time and place. Addressing the profound impact that women and their care within Black culture have had on his upbringing and artistic practice, this site-specific installation centres three key figures – his grandmother Frederica, a close friend and sister-figure Samantha and his mother Emelda. Staged in three acts, the installation brings together the artist‘s personal history, drawing on his experiences of Caribbean carnival culture and memories of his upbringing in Grenada and New York.

Visitors enter the Duveen Galleries at the heart of Tate Britain under a suspended corrugated steel roof that offers cover from a tropical rainstorm heard above. This multimedia work is inspired by Barrington‘s childhood memory of seeking shelter in his grandmother’s home in Grenada during a storm. The sound of rain hitting the roof is combined with a soundtrack featuring NTS radio programmes selected with Femi Adeyemi, newly commissioned compositions by Kelman Duran, Andrew Hale, Devonté Hynes and Olukemi Lijadu and songs by Mangrove Steelband.

Under the roof are ratan and plastic seats embellished with braided elements and draped with plastic quilts containing embroidered postcards and works on paper by Barrington’s longtime collaborator Teresa Farrell. Wooden walls containing windows and textile works transform this vast, open hall into a series of more intimate spaces. Evoking feelings of safety and protection from his childhood, the artist invites us to take a moment to pause as we shelter together under the same roof.

Emerging from the rainstorm, a four-metre-high aluminium sculpture of a dancing figure greets audiences in the centre of the galleries. Based on and made in collaboration with Barrington‘s close friend, Samantha, the figure stands on a large communal steel drum and is adorned with ‘Pretty Mas (masquerade)‘ jewellery by designers L’ENCHANTEUR, costume by Jawara Alleyne and nails by Mica Hendricks.

Paintings hanging from scaffolding depicting ‘traditional Mas’ characters and carnival revellers along with vast archway canvases overhead taking us from sunrise to sunset form a vibrant carnival streetscape. The scene refers to the Caribbean tradition of ‘J‘ouvert’, in which participants cover each other with paint, mud and oil and dance at dawn on carnival Monday. Barrington invites us into the protective space that the carnival community has created in the streets for Samantha to freely celebrate herself.

The installation concludes in the North Duveen gallery where light shines through a stained-glass window onto a boarded-up corner kiosk made to American prison-cell dimensions, creating a contemplative, cathedral-like atmosphere. The kiosk sculpture is fitted with moving shutters and surrounded by crowd control barriers with barbed wire, alluding to issues of mass incarceration.

Church pews covered with plastic quilts containing pillowcases which feature drawings by Barrington face this somber scene. Inspired by the artist’s adolescence in New York, this final act references the unwavering love and fear felt by Black mothers for their children, who are frequently at risk of harm amid state violence.

Image: Alvaro Barrington, Wete Fete, Bathers, for Myself 2023 © Alvaro Barrington

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