James Tuitt’s new paintings celebrate various versions of black women in power. Black fashion models and their rise to prominence take centre stage, but the overall place of black women throughout the fashion industry and beyond is also questioned. Tuitt asks, “are black women essentially being used as a consumer-facing means to sell product”, seemingly answering our calls for diversity and inclusion? Or is the inclusion of black women as actual professionals being extended to higher, executive positions? Placements where they hold power and make the final call, occupy the core spaces; head offices and limited access areas, where ideas are shared, plans plotted, and decisions made?
Professional spaces of high importance, prestige, and considered, often expensive, luxurious design, are alluded to in the paintings with depictions of aggregate concrete, stone and marble features, which hint at 80’s/90’s design-conscious office interiors. The ‘executive/office’ theme is even nudged towards a more sci-fi/dystopian future, in versions where figures could appear on large digital screens atop the tallest buildings, ordering citizens to ‘be indoors by 9pm or face extreme consequences!’. Raising the question: Would the idea of ‘power’ be less doomed if it were black women that wielded it?
Visually, the themes of these works are not heavy handed. While expressing the need to recognise black women’s value at elevated vantage points beyond entertainment industries, it is also important that black women are not *expected* fulfill any other pre-ordained roles. Why should they be our educators, our sports stars, our surveillance or carers, burdened with both identifying and correcting our mistakes, without having the opportunity to just be?
James Tuitt, has transformed the gallery into a minimal upper floor apartment of a friend-of-a-friend; where we become the chosen guests in an afterparty gathering. The unframed artwork decorating the walls have a poster-like ease to them, depicting surreal rave-flyer imagery that could be fun ice-breakers. Inflatable chairs and a mattress on the floor encourage comfort and intimacy among the guests. The spacious magazine cover/rave flyer compositions banish responsibilities and any ‘expected roles’ to the to-do-later list and give only clues to the worlds these stylish figures have escaped from.