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Wangari Mathenge, The Ascendants IX (Just Like My Parents’ House, I’ve Become A Visitor), 2020

Stretching the Body brings together a group of thirteen women artists from different generations and geographical origins, who through the medium of painting reflect on the genre of portraiture and the theme of the human figure. The exhibition title is a play on words in the English language, referencing the classic action of stretching the canvas and the physical exercise of stretching in order to highlight the space of painting as a physical and conceptual perimeter within which to explore new notions of corporeality.

Through a variety of stylistic stratagems, the exhibition artists distance themselves from the canon of representing the body in the Western pictorial tradition, investigating issues central to today, like racial identity, gender identity, power relations, memory and knowledge as they traverse physical experience.
Elongated or deformed, abstract or geometrically constructed, the body lies at the centre of their artistic investigation and formal experimentation, emerging as a contested space, a zone of conflict between definitions and belonging, in which limits between subject and object are continually called into question.

The exhibition is laid out as two main spaces: the first presents works that depict a broad range of scenes, exploring the relationship between individual figures, groups of people and domestic/urban architectural spaces. Laden with references to genres and iconography from the history of painting, as well as more contemporary imagery, these works create microcosms in which bodies live and act, tell stories and offer experiences about our private and collective lives.

In a dynamic process of deconstruction/reconstruction that tests the very limits of perceiving and defining the human figure, body manipulation is accentuated in the second exhibition space. The resulting bodies are multiform, fragmented, ambiguous, fused, exposed, immense, fluid, and paradoxical: leveraging the pictorial medium’s expressive possibilities, the artists assert the illusory nature of the univocal, normative concept of identity, celebrating the multiplicity that exists within and beyond the boundaries of our skin.