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Tate Britain: Alvaro Barrington's "Grace" explores Carribean culture

Paintings depicting masquerade characters and carnival revellers by artist Alvaro Barrington at the UK Tate Britain museum on May 28, 2024.   -  
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United Kingdom

A silver painted dancer figure greets audiences in the centre of London's Tate Britain galleries. The museum has unveiled GRACE, a new commission by Alvaro Barrington.

The Venezuela-born artist who has Haitian and Grenadian roots is based in the UK.

His installation centers three key figures – his grandmother Frederica, his mother Emelda and a close friend and sister-figure Samantha Harrison.

A silver painted dancer figure greets audiences in the centre of Tate Britain's galleries, adorned with fabrics and jewellery.

Standing at four-metres high, on a large communal steel drum, the dancer depicts Barrington's close friend Harrison.

Portrait of Alvaro Barrington at Tate Britain 2024 Photo © Tate (Jai Monaghan)
Portrait of Alvaro Barrington at Tate Britain 2024 Photo © Tate (Jai Monaghan) Jai Monaghan/Photo © Tate 2024

For him, the culmination of different artists' work in his commission adds to the creative energy and mood of the celebration of Black culture.

"As we are standing behind here with a sculpture Samantha, Jawara, Mica or soul and dynasty, or the steel pan and the culture around it from soca music, that carnival culture. All of these feels for me like I'm one of many of the creative energies," he said.

"I just thought it would be a great opportunity to have my paintings as a frame for the creativity, but then also make frames that are a bit more interesting."

Honouring a journey

Staged in three acts, the installation draws on the artist's experiences of Caribbean carnival culture and memories of his upbringing in Grenada and New York.

It is the first major commission in the Tate Britain Dunveen galleries since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dominique Heyse-Moore, Senior Curator of British Contemporary Art at Tate Britain says the commission is a unique homage to Barrington as an artist.

"He's also really focusing on Black culture and Caribbean in this commission and throughout his work. So it's a real honouring of where he comes from and what made him an artist," Heyse-Moore says.

Shadowy and dark, Barrington's experiences of New York are showcased on another side of the commission.

Surrounded by the barbed prison-wire fencing, the shutter of a boarded-up kiosk clangs as it opens and closes.

Inspired by Barrington's adolescence in New York and alluding to issues of mass incarceration, the kiosk is made to American prison size dimensions, with crowd control barriers surrounding the sculpture with barbed wire.

The third 'Grace' of the exhibit is that of Barrington's childhood and upbringing with grandmother, Frederica.

"The Grace of his grandmother, Frederica, is represented by a corrugated roof, which is suspended over you, and you are protected by her safety is the idea. You can sit on her sofas which are covered in her protective plastic that she covered furniture in herself, as if you are sheltering from a Caribbean rainstorm," Heyse-Moore explains.

Under a plastic corrugated roof, plastic seats are embellished with braided elements and draped with plastic quilts containing postcards created by Barrington's collaborator Teresa Farrell.

"My grandma lived in Grenada, and she had covered the furniture with this plastic and the plastic was really to protect the furniture and so every time my mum came home it would be like brand new, " recalls the artist.

The exhibition at the Tate Britain runs until January 2025.

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