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Identity and nudity in vogue at Frieze

Leilah Babirye

The clocks have turned back and it’s time to say goodbye to October and the final vestiges of summer on to which I had unconsciously been nostalgically hanging. But as we hurl ourselves towards the year-end finale, taking in Halloween en route, we can reflect that this Autumn, the art world kicked off in style with some magnificent shows, and Frieze London was no exception.

Vistors to Frieze London...

Now in its twentieth year, the influential Regent's Park show was vibrant and eclectic, a reflection perhaps of the ebullience of the London art scene and its growing inclusiveness. Statements abound around the theme of identify both from the artists and the visitors. The latter whom, deeply immersed in the vibe, exuded confidence and ownership of the occasion.

Leilah Babirye

Leading boldly the identity theme was Ugandan born Leilah Babirye. Now living in New York, Babirye's solo show at Frieze with Stephen Friedman gallery presented a series of dynamic hand-carved and ceramic sculptures of varying scale alongside works on paper.

Lucky enough to catch to the artist while she was there, I hear how through her multidisciplinary practice, Babirye transforms everyday materials into objects to address issues surrounding identity, sexuality and human rights. In the body of work shown at Frieze, Babirye imagines creating a community of queer Ugandans. Her choice to use discarded materials is intentional and a metaphor for ‘abasiyazi’, the pejorative term for a gay person in the Luganda language meaning sugarcane husk. “It’s rubbish,” explains the Babirye, “the part of the sugarcane you throw out."

Using masks in her work became an important turning point in her career as an artist. Inspired by West African masks, and their potential for hidden meaning, she started to using masks to symbolise the queer community.

The fashion of nudity

Tim Schneider, writing for the The Art Newspaper (Frieze Art Faietr 2023 Edition, Issue 4) reported how for a new generation of artists, sex is back in fashion. I totally concur with his comment that one was "never far from naked bodies and erotic scenes". That said, the works spoke for themselves.

Snaking though the stands, here's a couple of my favourites.

Red Stick, Joan Semmel courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates

Alexander Associates

Rendez-vous, Lisa Yuskavage courtesy David Zwirner

© Copyright Hazel Clarke


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