For her first solo exhibition in Switzerland, Florine Demosthene continues to explore the concept of allure and the object of desire as a thinking subject.
The artist challenges a Western ideal of beauty and its dictates, creating a black heroine who does not conform to stereotypes of the sensual nude. Demosthene’s heroine is not coy and openly defies viewers by staring back at them from several of the artworks. She is a very particular figure in terms of physical characteristics but also becomes a figurehead for the black female as a sexual and a self-defining being. This contemplation of the female nude as a being who is able to secure an identity of her own negates her role as a simple object of desire.
The heroine is entirely naked in some works, almost completely hidden in others, and in various stages of dress (or undress) in between these extremes. Demosthene sees her heroine as symbolically attired in cultural array. Her nakedness is the result of her attempts to remove these imposed coverings. ‘The cloths are the last vestiges of her past [;…] the heroine is wrestling with the past and present of her awakening,’ the artist explains.
Demosthene’s search for meaning in her rendering of her subject moves far beyond simple portraiture. For example, the skin of her heroine seems to be peeling away in certain paintings to reveal a mottled substratum of flesh. As the artist explains, her heroine has ‘un-become to come fully into who she is’ in her search for identity.
A new aspect in Demosthene’s work for The Unbecoming is the introduction of the Punu-Lumbo mask, usually found in the Ogooué River basin region of Gabon, which can represent female spirits and beauty. As Demosthene explains: ‘I use this mask as a sort of barrier between the real and the unreal and the seen and the unseen, much in the same way a masquerader delves between the realms of the human and spirit worlds.’
Demosthene has moved towards a palette of blues and greens, adding a new dimension to her existing palette of flesh colours, browns, oranges and ochre. This exhibition includes works of mixed media on the near translucent base of Mylar as well as even more recent collages on paper of mixed media on Mylar, where the latter’s layering creates an opaque effect. There are also mixed media pieces on canvas.