Kelly Sinnapah Mary at Aicon, 2023

Page 1

KELLY SINNAPAH MARY Curated by Andil Gosine





“Kelly Sinnapah Mary” by Andil Gosine Images About Kelly Sinnapah Mary


4 6 66

Kelly Sinnapah Mary Andil Gosine

The scene repeats with each new audience’s encounter with Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s playful Sanbras sculptures: children’s and adults’ eyes delight on first glimpse, and curiosity takes over; I witnessed several children and a couple of adults run toward them when the sculptures were presented at the Ford Foundation Gallery’s everything slackens in a wreck, in 2022. Up close, glee turns to surprise and, sometimes, audible horror. The playfulness of the uniformed girls and boys and little creatures, finished off in a rough mixed-media finish of Sinnapah Mary’s own making, invoke a sweet nostalgia but once lured in, strangeness and violence emerge: characters have four eyes, not two, the decorative text on the vases are stark obscenities, and that cute mongoose in the corner? It’s carrying around a decapitated limb. This ability of Sinnapah Mary to conjure a layered, complex and often unexpected experience through her work is among the qualities that place her among a new generation of Caribbean artists currently making waves in contemporary art internationally. Many of them are contesting long standing representational tropes, both geographic and caricatural, of the region and its peoples, and view themselves as authors of anti-colonial correctives and aspirants of postcolonial futures. Sinnapah Mary works less from a place of polemical intention than from curiosity about her history and present. Still resident in the town of Saint François, Guadeloupe, where she was born in 1981, Sinnapah Mary grew up in a community of mostly Indo-Guadeloupeans who were descendants of indentured workers, South Asians brought to work Caribbean plantations starting in the mid-nineteenth century following the abolition of slavery. Forty thousand South Asians, most of them Tamil like Sinnapah Mary, were brought to Guadeloupe between 1861 and 1883, but high mortality rates due to poor conditions of work has meant the current population size is about the same. The community’s struggle for recognition has been long. Citizenship and voting rights were not afforded to Indo-Guadeloupeans until 1923, and the community remains largely invisibilized in the social and cultural imaginary. Sinnapah Mary learned little about this history while growing up. As a child, she understood herself to be Afro-Caribbean, in part because her family’s practices as Jehovah’s Witnesses separated them from the larger, mostly Hindu Indo-Guadeloupean community. When investigating this history as an adult, she turned to the canvas to report her explorations. Many of her works share the title “Notebook of No Return,” in a nod to the Aimé Césaire text, with the addition of subtitles that describe her focus during a particular time period. The eleventh collection of works in this series, “Notebook of No Return: Memories” was completed in 2022 and featured three large paintings anchored by the towering Bride triptych of an Indo-Guadeloupean woman whose body is tattooed with references to the controversial 1899 text by Helen Bannerman, The Story of Little Sambo, which depicted the central figure as a dark skin South Indian boy. Through the re-presentation of iconic scenes from the text as tattoos, Sinnapah Mary both acknowledges the enduring influence of these racist tropes and pushes against them through her own reinventions. In Sinnapah Mary’s hands, for example, Sambo’s enemy tiger becomes an ally for her schoolgirl icon, Sanbras. Explicit in this turn is a reconfiguration of human-animal relations. The relation-


ships of human to non-human life forms recently became a central concern of the artist. As part of her preparation to paint this past year, Sinnapah Mary practiced vocal exercises with the Guadeloupean artist-performer Geordy, and turned to Icelandic artist Björk to develop her painting practice. When Björk made her album Medulla, she wanted to explore all the possibilities of sounds and noises that the humans’ vocal cords can produce. Inspired by this approach, Sinnapah Mary recorded herself reading the poem ‘Sel Noir’ by Édouard Glissant, in a beastly voice. “I was very surprised or even frightened by what I heard,” she says, “as if another person was inside me.” Through the animal noises, Sinnapah Mary says, “I take away this notion of the superiority of the human.” In the paintings that then followed, this blurring of the line between human and non-human animal takes centerstage. In one, Sanbras’s companion is the orangutan. Both are standing in a banana plantation, and Sanbras is pictured holding shoots for planting. An actual encounter with orangutans at a zoo inspired the work. “I found myself in front of a glass cage where orangutans locked up. I observed them and they observed us. I felt as though I could read their thoughts: ‘let’s reverse our places, you are not superior to us…’ I was so uncomfortable in front of them while the other spectators were having fun.” The human-animal dichotomy literally falls apart in other paintings from this series of works, one which depicts a half-human, half-beast figure as the backdrop to Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and another in which a naked, full-size Sanbras is watched by a smaller one, inside her domestic space, pointing to the constant self-policing of our animalities. Freed from domesticity, Sanbras finds sexual pleasure in another painting, with another woman in a cocoa plantation, no doubt a contentious site itself, linked both to colonial histories and contemporary efforts to decolonize chocolate production. Feminist politics infuse these works, as they have for the entirety of Sinnapah Mary’s artistic career. Referenced in one of the new works is Elizabeth of Austria, known as ‘Sissi, “the Sleeping Empress,” subject of a recent teleseries that sparked new interest in her. Married off to Franz Joseph I when she was sixteen, “this young woman who sleeps is an invitation to dream, to utopia,” Sinnapah Mary says. In another work which references Alexandre Canabel’s “The Birth of Venus,” Sanbras poses confidently naked, seductively, next to Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem and in the company of animals coupling in the background. “She has no complexes, she is in tune with her body and she cherishes it,” Sinnapah Mary says. The figure of the herbalist Mama Yaya in Condé’s Tituba, also invokes for Sinnapah Mary an appreciation of ancestral knowledge. “Yaya symbolizes our mothers and grandmothers,” she says of the women who were often considered witches because of the knowledge they possessed about the healing powers of plants and were keepers of culture and language. “My grandmother and mother created potions too, as did my uncles,” she says; in recognition of the knowledge and worldviews they have passed on to her, Sinnapah Mary has named this series of works “She taught me to listen to the wind.” __________________ Andil Gosine is a Professor of Environmental Arts and Justice at York University in Toronto and author of Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean (Duke University Press, 2021), which includes a chapter on the work of Sinnapah Mary. His research, curatorial and artistic practices consider historical and contemporary imbrications of desire, power, and ecology.


Pages 8-11: Notebook 12, The Fables of Sanbras, 2022 Acrylic on paper, 14.38 x 11.25 in (36.52 x 28.56 cm)





Pages 14-21: Notebook of No Return: Childhood of Sanbras, 2021 Paper, metal, mortar, and acrylic paint, Display dimensions variable









The Fables of Sanbras, 2023 Paper, metal, mortar, and acrylic paint, Display dimensions variable





The Fables of Sanbras, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 51.18 x 38.19 in (130 x 97 cm)



The Fables of Sanbras, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 51.18 x 38.19 in (130 x 97 cm)







She taught me to listen to the wind, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 55.64 x 47 in (141.29 x 119.38 cm)



The Fables of Sanbras, 2023 Paper, metal, mortar, and acrylic paint, Display dimensions varaible





She taught me to listen to the wind, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 47.5 x 47 in (120.65 x 119.38 cm)



She taught me to listen to the wind, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 47.13 x 71.25 in (119.7 x 180.98 cm)



She taught me to listen to the wind, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 46.63 x 46.75 in (118.43 x 118.75 cm)





She taught me to listen to the wind, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 46.5 x 46.5 in (118.11 x 118.11 cm)




She taught me to listen to the wind, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 46.88 x 45.5 in (119.06 x 115.57 cm)





Notebook 10, The Childhood of Sanbras 2021-22, Acrylic on tapestry L: 114.17 x 115.55 in (290 x 293.5 cm) R: 96.46 x 133.86 in (245 x 340 cm)



Notebook of No Return: Memories, 2022 Acrylic on canvas, Triptych: 99 x 77.5 in each (251.46 x 196.85 cm each)



Pages 64-65: She taught me to listen to the wind, 2023 Acrylic on canvas, 9.5 x 7.4 in (24 x 19 cm)





Kelly Sinnapah Mary Kelly Sinnapah Mary (b. 1981, Guadeloupe) is a graduate of Toulouse University (France) in visual art. Her work has been shown in Guadeloupe, France and internationally, including the Netherlands (Kunstinstituut Melly), Miami (PEREZ Art Museum), Washington DC (IDB Gallery), Hong Kong (Osage Foundation), Martinique (Foundation Clément), and Brazil (34th Biennale of Sao Paulo). She was featured in the Ford Foundation Gallery’s group exhibition everything slackens in a wreck curated by Andil Gosine in 2022, as well as in Very Small Feelings, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art’s fourth exhibition in their ‘Young Artists of Our Times’ program in 2023. Sinnapah Mary lives and works in Saint-François, Guadeloupe EDUCATION 2005

IUFM Visual Arts, University Antilles Guyana, Schœlcher Martinique


License Visual Arts, University of Toulouse II le Mirail, Toulouse, France


Discipline Arts, University of Toulouse II le Mirail, Toulouse, France


Surrealism and US: Caribbean and African Diasporic Artists Since 1940, curated by Maria Elena Ortiz, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas


Kelly Sinnapah Mary, curated by Andil Gosine, Aicon, New York


The Fables of Sanbras, solo exhibition, curated by Sour Grass, Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam, Netherlands Very Small Feelings, curated by Akansha Rastogi and Diana Campbell, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, India & Samdani Art Foundation, Dhaka, Bangladesh


everything slackens in a wreck, curated by Andil Gosine, Ford Foundation Gallery, New York


34th Bienal de São Paulo: Though it’s dark, still I sing, São Paulo, Brazil


Mais le Monde est une mangrovité, curated by Chris Cyrille, Galerie Jeune Creation, Paris


Present Passing, curated by Natasha Becker & Patrik Flores, Osage Foundation, Hong Kong


Désir Cannibale, curated by Jean Marc Hunt, Fondation Clément, Martinique No commission, curated by Nicola Vassell, The Dean Collection, Miami, Florida


L’élargissement des fantasmes, Maelle Galerie, Paris, France


Echos imprévus: turning tide, curated by Tumelo Mosakaand and Johana Auguiac, Mémorial ACTe, Guadaloupe


Vision archipélique, curated by Tumelo Mosaka and Johana Auguiac, Fondation Clément, Martinique


Field notes: Extracts, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts,


New York


Caribbean: Crossroad of the World, Pérez Art Museum, Miami Flow: Economies of the Look and Creativity in Contemporary Art from the Caribbean, curated by Elvis Fuentes, IDB Cultural Center Art Gallery, Washington DC


“10 Art Shows to See in New York this January,” Hyperallergic, January 7, 2024,


“Spotlight: Kelly Sinnapah Mary Explores Personal histories and Ancestry in Her First U.S. Solo Show,” artnet news, December 21, 2023, https://news.


Aruna De Souza, “From the Wreckage of Caribbean Migration, a new kind of beauty,” The New York Times, June 15, 2022. Andil Gosine, “Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s Quarantine,” Wasafiri 37, no. 2 (2022): 48-58.


Natasha Gural, “George Floyd’s Death and Systemic Racism Spark Creative Breakthroughs for Artists,” Forbes, Jun 9, 2020.


Andil Gosine, “Désir Cannibale: Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s Notebook of No Return,” Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas 5, 1-2 (2019): 1130.


“Creole portraits for photographic masks,” Art Absolument (2018).


Dominique Brebion, “Hotmilk by Kelly Sinnapah Mary,” Aica Caraïbe du Sud, January 2, 2017,


Gabrielle Jamela Hosein and Lisa Outar (editors), “Art, Violence, and Nonreturn: An Interview with Guadeloupean Artist Kelly Sinnapah Mary,” in Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought: Genealogies, Theories, Enactments (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).


Martha Schwendener, “Review: ‘Fields Notes’ uses Visual Art to explore Caribbean Heritage,” The New York Times, September 10, 2015.


Kelly Sinnapah Mary | Curated by Andil Gosine Aicon, New York | December 7, 2023 - January 13, 2024 All works by the artist © Kelly Sinnapah Mary Installation photography by Sebastian Bach






Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.