Arts & Design

Gender Identity, Memories in Joy Yamusangie’s Debut Solo Exhibition in London

Show opens on March 8th and the curtain closes on April 1, 2023. But the memories are bound to linger for a lifetime. Tiwani Contemporary is delighted to present Joy Yamusangie’s first solo show with the gallery. The exhibition titled “Remember Me” consists of a body of new work, which deepens the artist’s interest in illustrating speculative, euphoric spaces.

The body of work is centred around the fear of being forgotten, not only through death but also in life where we are forgotten by past lovers, old friends and those who were once closest to us. These new paintings were inspired by a true story of the major surgery Yamusangie underwent last year, a procedure undertaken to affirm their gender identity. A cathartic experience, it nevertheless triggered thoughts of mortality, and the idea of leaving a legacy, while contemplating whether and how we live on in the memories of family, friends and lovers. Yamusangie questions what happens when memories fade and asks, what efforts do we take to cement legacy and permanence within history.

Music is core to Yamusangie’s practice, and the artist has curated a soundtrack – with each song speaking to a specific work – to accompany the show. The soundtrack will play within the galleries and the playlist can also be listened to on Spotify here.

At the heart of the exhibition is Six Weeks (2023), a work about gender euphoria, healing, and living. The painting is a self-portrait, the setting of which exists somewhere between reality and unconsciousness – an amalgamation of the doctors’ offices, clinical waiting rooms and operating theatre the artist found themselves in last year.

The image is a representation of the artist in bed convalescing after transformative surgery, with the red sun signifying the last thing they remember before being anaesthetist and ‘going under’, counting down from ten but only making it to seven before waking up, dazed, post-surgery.

The artist’s vulnerability, felt throughout the period leading up to their surgery as well as during their recovery, informs the other works in the exhibition. ‘Remember Me – Rodeo King’ (2022) speaks to Yamungie’s desire to be remembered as someone who wasn’t afraid to try, and who always had faith: Faith in themselves, faith in God, faith in their friends.

Yamusangie has always wanted to ride a rodeo bull.

I know I’d likely fall quickly, but I’d fall with pride in having so much faith in myself that I did it anyway, as something within me tells me I’d be great either way. The aspiration to be great is something that we all have in some form. It’s a way of people remembering us.”

Interpersonal relationships are another recurrent theme in the artist’s practice, and in O Baby Embrace Me, the work’s perspective involves the viewer looking, and ultimately intruding, upon an embracing couple. The shadowed figure represents a space where “we” once were, with the painting speaking to the ways in which, at one time or another, we have all found ourselves wondering whether old lovers still remember our embrace.

Other works in ‘Remember Me’ explore aspects of queer identities. In ‘Two Faced Boot!’ (2023), they consider the contrasting sides of our individual identities and how different people perceive these disparate facets of the whole. On the left Yamusangie renders the narrative of how their gender was perceived throughout their childhood, using the symbol of a woman in a dress that we often see on bathroom stalls. The right boot shows a mermaid character, which from one perspective looks like it is diving into water to hide but when flipped, we see that its hands are thrown up in the air in celebration. For Yamusangie, the mermaid represents gender fluidity and freedom and in this painting, both boots belong to the same person, representing a duality within a whole.

The first painting of this new series completed by the artist was ‘Remember Me’ (2022). The work depicts a close moment between two people, their hands close to touching but with a bill placed on the table, symbolising that their time together is up. People coming together around a table to eat and drink is a subject the artist returns to again and again in their practice. For Yamunsangie, it’s a space where we come together to celebrate, share news, share our losses, break up with lovers and get back together. It’s a space where there is always something about to happen.

Friendship is the subject of ‘Untitled’ (Drive), 2022. The painting was made in response to the artist spending time in a recording studio with musician friends, with Yamusangie listening in whilst they improvised. The experience triggered memories of being with groups of friends, driving around London and listening to the radio. While perhaps mundane, they are warm memories that they share with many friends, and the artist wanted to imbue the painting – and the whole body of work – with the closeness and tenderness of those memories.

A viewing room of works by Joy Yamusangie is also currently on view at 9 Cork Street, Frieze’s permanent gallery space in London.

Joy Yamusangie is a visual artist, specialising in illustration. Joy experiments with a range of traditional processes such as drawing, film, painting and collaging to produce mixed media pieces. Their previous works have included a public art installation commissioned by Tate Collectives, designing the cover of C. L. R. James’ Minty Alley and being selected for the RA Summer show in 2021.

Editor’s note: The use of ‘they’ in this article in reference to the artist is sensitive to the new gender lingo for queer.




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