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Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Born, 1977 in London

In April of 2013, when the shortlist for the 2013 Turner Prize was announced, the inclusion of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s name was perhaps not a particular surprise. Not only had she been making waves in the UK, with significant attention from the art press, she had also been the subject of an important exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a leading New York gallery that had also shown a number of other Black British artists, such as Yinka Shonibare, Hurvin Anderson, and Chris Ofili. This art press attention included an adulatory review in the Guardian, and a substantial feature in Frieze magazine, the cover of which featured a work by Yiadom-Boakye. (Frieze, Issue 146, April 2012, The Fictitious Portraits of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, by Jennifer Higgie, pp. 86-91) Her Studio Museum show was Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations, Studio Museum in Harlem, 11 November 2010 – 13 March 2011.

Yiadom-Boakye distinguished herself by producing the most enigmatic of portraits. She tended to take as her subjects Black people, not drawn from life, but instead taken – assembled almost – from a variety of secondary material. The significance of the successes achieved thus far by Yiadom-Boakye cannot easily be overstated. It appeared that Yiadom-Boakye had found ways to present a largely non-racial reading of the Black image. In a world in which the white image stood for the general and the Black image stood for the racially or ethnically or culturally specific, Yiadom-Boakye seemed able to use, or construct the Black image in ways that, whilst not exactly transcending race, or difference, were able to wrestle it free from the limited range of readings that historically seemed to plague the Black image. Yiadom-Boakye seemed able to break what had been, for so many practitioners, a somewhat debilitating coupling of the words Black and artist, even though her portraits reflected an unblinking examination of Black portraiture.

The men and women presented in Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits were oftentimes decidedly dark-skinned and as such, represented an almost over-determination of Blackness. In some portraits, this was achieved by the visibility of the whites of the subjects’ eyes. In others, this sense of over-determination was achieved by the showing of the subjects’ teeth. There was also the use of the decidedly dark backgrounds or overall environments in which the artist located her subjects. For a Black artist to be able to paint Black people and to draw positive attention from the art world was rare indeed.

Time and again, critics had to grapple with a pronounced enigmatic dimension to Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings. “They’re so compelling it’s hard to believe Yiadom-Boakye’s subjects aren’t portrayals of real people: they’re fictions born from scrapbooks, drawings and intuition. These characters are also mostly dark-skinned, something that seems to matter both very much and very little. A British artist of Ghanaian descent, Yiadom-Boakye is putting black subjects at the heart of a European painting tradition from which they have largely been left out. Yet there are no capital “C” cultural references and features often aren’t racially distinct. The most you can say is that hair, wardrobe and body language are gently bourgeois. The neutrality is striking.” [Skye Sherwin, Artist of the week 186: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Everyday actions are made poetic by Yiadom-Boakye’s paint-coaxed figures, emerging from her canvases with secrets intact, Guardian, 19 April 2012 www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/apr/19/lynette-yiadom-boakye?INTCMP=SRCH accessed 27 July 2013]

Such were Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings that critics found themselves interpreting the images in any given number of ways. Veteran art critic Sarah Kent opined that, “The artist often paints several versions of the same image and gives her subjects generic titles, as though they are embodiments of an idea. Perhaps this is why they bring to mind early photographs in which [what Kent refers to as] ethnic groups, mental patients, orphans, criminals or trades-people are treated as phenomena, while the subjects, in turn, respond to the camera with indifference or even disdain.” [Sarah Kent, Artist: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Flow, the Studio Museum in Harlem (ex cat) 2 April – 29 June 2008: 103]

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye studied at Falmouth College of Art, the same art school from which artists such as Alistair Raphael and Hew Locke, had previously graduated.

As mentioned, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was one of the artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize exhibition of 2013, held at Ebrington, Building 80/81, Derry/Londonderry, 23 October 2013 - 5 January 2014. Along with Laure Prouvost, Tino Sehgal, and David Shrigley, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was shortlisted for the Turner Prize 2013. Yiadom-Boakye was shortlisted “for her exhibition Extracts and Verses at Chisenhale Gallery.”

From the Turner Prize 2013 catalogue:

“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was born in London in 1977. She studied at the Royal Academy Schools, London, Falmouth College of Art, Cornwall, and Central St Martins School of Art and Design, London. Her solo exhibitions include The Love Without, Corvi-Mora, London (2013); Extracts and Verses, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2012); All Manner of Needs, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, (2012); Any Number of Preoccupations, Studio Museum Harlem, New York (2010); and Gasworks, London (2007). She has participated in numerous group exhibitions that recemtly include The Ungovernables, New Museum Triennial, New York (2012); Future Generation Art Prize, PinchukArtCentre, Kiev (2012); Fiction as Fiction (or, A Ninth Johannesburg Biennale), Stevenson, Cape Town (2012); and A Terrible Beauty is Born, La Biennale De Lyon 2011, Lyon (2011). In 2012 she was the recipient of the Future Generation Art Prize.”

The short essay on Yiadom-Boakye in the Turner Prize 2013 catalogue (written by Maoliosa Boyle) opened as follows:

“Of Ghanaian descent, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is a painter, poet and writer. She paints fictional characters, ‘composites’ she creates from memory, encounters and scrapbook gatherings. Her large-scale paintings are seductive, rich in dark palettes; they lure the viewer to engage with a slice of narrative, like an extracted sentence from an unknown story. Her figures are not real people yet they imply familiarity. Yiadom-Boakye collects her subjects from everyday experience, found images, historical art and literature. Paintings are then deftly created within a day, immediacy being core to her practice.”

On July 21, 2016, caa.reviews published a review, written by Mia L. Bagneris, of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye New York: Prestel, 2014. 136 pp.; 75 color ills. Cloth $39.95. The book had texts written by Naomi Beckwith, Donatien Grau, and Jennifer Higgie. See www.caareviews.org/reviews/2603#.V5JGyI5FCZB

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Book relating to a publication, 2013

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Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2010

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Group show at Ebrington, Building 80/81. 2013 - 2014

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Derry/Londonderry, United Kingdom

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New York, United States of America