CHICAGO — “The Palazzo” is the nucleus of British figurative painter Miranda Forrester’s first solo exhibition, Interiorities, at Mariane Ibrahim gallery. In it, a mother descends a lengthy staircase toward us, carrying her child and gesturing energetically to another woman and child at the top of the stairs. She wears a deep green robe, touches of mustard defining her physique. Semi-abstract shapes — the seafoam green masses that lie on the staircase’s edges, multicolored outlines on the ceiling, and elongated rectangles painted with translucent brown pigment that delineate the walls behind the steps — are scattered across the composition. 

 “The Palazzo” is one in a body of work using pastel-colored abstraction to explore interpersonal relationships. One approach to this work is via the lens of Black femininity as it relates to the idea of a “Soft Life”:  Forrester tests whether we can understand domestic spaces without making presuppositions about race and gender. Clearly inspired by her recent sojourn in Italy, where she was completing an artist residency, the artist places these Brown-outlined women in opulent European settings, associating Black women with the beauty and cultural significance of Italian architecture. In “Mama! (study)” (2023), for instance, a partially nude woman’s brown skin is rendered with the same pigments as the doors that open us up to her. 

For this exhibition, Forrester adorned transparent, glossy polycarbonate sheets with oil paint to create faceless women, recognizable only by the feminine curves of their bodies and the styling of their hair. The polycarbonate, set into wooden frames, offers windows into Forrester’s intimate world as a woman of color and a mother. In “Encased” (2023), a woman gestures in a concerned manner — suggested by the bend in her knees and arch of her spine — toward an infant in a diaper with a clip in her short hair. Much of the baby’s body is painted orange to match the pigment around the woman’s neck and shower, suggesting an intimacy between them in more than color palette. 

Forrester’s choice of transparent plastic as the surface for her outlined figures highlights the nuanced identity politics of Black female and queer spaces. In “Companion” (2023), two women stand naked, one embracing the other in a three-quarters view. One figure, rendered in coffee-colored pigments, has a defined profile, her hair styled in a low bun, while the other, painted in copper colors, is discernible almost solely through the outline of her hair. This work could represent any number of couples, showcasing the diverse expressions of Black queer womanhood through the very lack of distinctive features.

By using plastic instead of the typical canvas surface, Forrester creates a permeable interplay between the first layer of oil paints and the last. Whereas a canvas permits only a two-dimensional or relief surface, the clear polycarbonate introduces the depth of the canvas as yet another spatial element. These Black women, therefore, transcend the confines of the walls they adorn. By building her compositions from background to foreground, from abstract brushstrokes to architecture to the top-layer female figures, she nods to the intricacy of building gendered and racialized identity.

Forrester’s striking artworks prompt profound psychological reflections on assumptions regarding gender, sexuality, and identity, particularly those affecting Black women. In Interiorities, she purposefully refrains from defining the women she depicts, but a sense of recognition resonates despite it. Her semi-abstract, porous surfaces foster diverse interpretations of Black femininity — even a transcendence beyond its conventional boundaries.

Source:
Moreira, Caira. “Miranda Forrester’s Soft Portraits of Black Queer Women.” Hyperallergic, 6 Mar. 2024, hyperallergic.com/876014/miranda-forrester-soft-portraits-black-queer-women/.

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