Ndiritu, Grace


British-Kenyan, b. 1982; lives and works in London, England


London-based Grace Ndiritu frequently works with pieces of fabric to create what she has referred to as "hand-crafted" videos and installations, coaxing subtle gestures, striking patterns, and amorphous forms into dynamic statements that draw connections between sculpture, performance, and photography. In Nightingale (2003) the artist appears before the video camera, framed in an intimate close-up, interacting with a large piece of bright red fabric, wrapping it around her head, shoulders, arms, and body. The movements appear accelerated, hovering between playful and forceful (a quality communicated largely through the artist's gaze, which meets that of the camera throughout), provoking rapid-fire free associations of burkas, belly dancers, headscarves, and keffiyehs. At a deeper register, such performances shift beyond immediately recognizable visual clues that suggest linkages between gender, fabric, and exposed skin. Here, by acknowledging its materiality, malleability, and fluid nature as it shifts across and around her body, Ndiritu is able to reference the role of fabric itself as a structure with considerable presence, one that echoes and challenges the time-based nature of the medium of video itself. Fluid and dynamic fabrics allow for the possibility to contemplate form and motion, suggesting in turn a rich and nuanced engagement with animation. Fabric thus assumes a life and agency of its own, autonomous, defining the space of the frame, alternately constricting, freeing, obscuring, and accentuating the artist's body.

As Ndiritu herself has acknowledged, her studies, performances, and their documentation open onto a deeper history, one that foregrounds Matisse and the modernist tradition of assimilating and flattening fabric and materials (volume) onto the pictorial plane (surface); these works similarly expand the concept of autonomy, to reference the social power of photography and its relationship to self representation. In this sense Ndiritu's works may be read as carrying forward the rich photographic practice of Seydou Keïta, whose studio portraits of modern Malians of the 1940s and 1950s present fully sovereign subjects, posed among broad swaths of patterned fabric. The connections between autonomy and animation are again emphasized; in Keïta's portraits—as in Ndiritu's videos—an explicit awareness of the camera serves to activate both the photographer and the subject.

Artworks by Ndiritu, Grace

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