Lubaina Himid | Tate Modern

I’ve talked about Lubaina Himid here before. During lockdown, my mind wandered towards Ankledeep, a pair portrait that’s part of a series the British-born painter completed in the 1990s. Each work in the series depicts pairs of “watchful and calm” black women, discussing important matters.

That painting, from the Tate’s permanent collection, forms part of an illuminating retrospective of Himid’s work, currently on show at Tate Modern. Himid’s an artist who returns again and again to repeating, overlapping themes, mainly in paint, but also in ceramics, set designs and sound works.

Joining her female pairs are two other standout series. One’s called Plan B, depicting precarious structures on the sea shore. The other, more recent, is Le Rodeur: larger paintings featuring awkward groups of men, some in period costume. The prevailing themes? Black defiance against history, buildings and architecture, and the dangerous ocean waters.

Lubaina Himid - Three Architects

Three Architects, smartly positioned in the first room of the show, brings it all together. A pair of Himid’s strangely static figures, with their hieroglyph hands, are deep in discussion. Another works on a maquette, perilously placed on a spindly table. (Himid’s depictions or buildings tend towards the bendy and curvy, a suggestion of the feminine id.) Outside, there’s a gloomy sky and angry waves.

The painting’s from 2019, and draws from both of Himid’s 90s series: authoritative women discussing important matters, and buildings in danger from the sea. “What kind of buildings do women want to live and work in?” Himid asks, in the notes to the show. “Has anyone ever asked us?”

Looking at this impressive painting, the viewer can’t be sure if this architectural office is suspended over the sea - if it’s overpowering the waters, or being enveloped by them. I suspect the former. In Himid’s world at least, women are firmly in charge.

Lubaina Himid is at Tate Modern (London). 25 November 2021 - 03 July 2022