The African artist, Lubaina Himid was born in 1954 in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Her art focuses on themes of cultural history and reclaiming identities and she was one of the first artists involved in the Black Art movement in the 1980s.
Her own description of her 1992 painting, Carpet, draws out the composition’s allusion to patchwork and cloth, and the idea that cloth can bear the traces of the activities for which it is used:
Patterns, colours, cloth flapping, beating in the wind. Robes wrapped against the sun and the cold of the night. Fabric highly coloured, woven, sewn together. Umbrellas tents canopies flags banners. The patterns on the cloths hold the clues to events.
To me these words give it away. I have never been to African, but the African presence in many countries in Central and South America is unmistakable. Travelling on buses through those regions, one of the most common and striking sights was to see brightly coloured washing hung on lines or fences or even bushes to dry. What to the European eye would seem to be rather brash colours, in African cultures is simply a statement of the vitality and beauty of life. Africa is, after all, the bedrock of European culture and its influence on painting and music is too obvious and too fundamental to be ignored.
Think of Carpet as a statement of life and appreciate how the blocks are not symmetrical nor posed symmetrically on the canvas upon which the letters appear to dance, and you get the idea of a buzzing dance floor capturing thus the vibrant energy of African culture. Another way to look at it would be to see the canvas as shorthand representation of our DNA code. Homo sapiens, emerged from Africa, as we all know, and these are the genes represented on the canvas, the genes too of all the wonderful creativity that has spread throughout the world.
Don’t believe me? Well get down to Tate Britain and see for yourself.