Somaya Critchlow’s “Underneath a Bebop Moon” at Maximillian William

‘A free woman in an unfree society will be a monster’ – Angela Carter (The Sadeian)

Somaya Critchlow's "Underneath a Bebop Moon" at Maximillian William

Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the Art Industry – artists and museums have had to dramatically adapt their ways of working in order to survive. However, as London emerges from lockdown, galleries have been slowly opening their doors to visitors again. With both large venues and small commercial spaces offering a range of exhibitions, this summer presents the perfect opportunity to visit and support our cultural institutions (but don’t forget to bring your mask).

Just a five minute walk from Oxford Circus Station is Maximillian William – a small contemporary art gallery which showcases new and emerging talent. Three years out of art school, Somaya Critchlow is certainly one to watch, as she presents her largest solo exhibition to date.

“Underneath a Bebop Moon” is a show of thirty three artworks curated by Critchlow herself. From bold life-sized canvases to delicate watercolour miniatures, the artworks are a personal exploration into the hyper-sexualisation of Black women. In Grandaddy Clock (Power Structures), a half-naked lady leans coolly against a heavy wooden clock. The Petworth Beauty (Abigail) clutches a bouquet of yellow flowers, examining her long acrylic nails whilst her dress straps fall delicately off her shoulders to reveal natural breasts. Critchlow’s women are subjects – not objects; they confront the viewer and subvert any cultural, societal or bodily expectations placed upon them. These images pay tribute to the charismatic and curvaceous Black celebrities that are celebrated in popular culture yet overlooked in the art world – they are as much inspired by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds as they are by Cardi B and Nicki Minaj.

Somaya Critchlow's "Underneath a Bebop Moon" at Maximillian William
Petworth Beauty (Abigail), 2020, Oil on linen, (21 x 15cm)
Somaya Critchlow's "Underneath a Bebop Moon" at Maximillian William
Grandaddy Clock (Power Structures), 2019, Oil on linen, (80 x 60.5)

The exhibition took two years to produce, but it came together at the right time. When the show opened on 18th June, the Black Lives Matter movement had gained significant momentum in London following the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Now more than ever, we have to challenge our own stereotypical notions and Critchlow’s artworks ask us to consider “What do we really think we are looking at?”. In Critchlow’s case it was herself. According to Emily Silver Smith (Gallery Manager at Maximillian William), for those who know her well, glimpses of the artist’s features can be seen in the characters. The intimate insights continue in the abstract still life paintings; You Don’t Comb the Mirror (Conceals an Eczema) is a visual representation of Critchlow’s personal struggle with the skin condition.

For anyone wanting to enjoy art after lockdown, this colourful exhibition offers the ideal opportunity to discover something new and think critically about how we consider identity within our society. The show is free and open until 15th August 2020, with visitors encouraged to leave all prejudice and use hand sanitiser at the door. 

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