It’s rare for me to visit a gallery and immediately think ‘oh, these are good’. More often, it’s ‘hmm’ or even ‘what?’. But the title of British figurative artist Linnet Panashe Rubaya’s exhibition at Manchester’s Saul Hay Gallery says it all. Just looking at her pictures makes me happy.
Panashe Rubaya’s subjects beam at you through the canvas, which makes you want to hug them. Well, all except for one little girl who looks sceptically over her shoulder, her gaze the very model of Yeats’s ‘blank and pitiless as the sun’.
The exhibition’s title also informs us that these are overtly political paintings. And they certainly are, but not in the manner of Picasso’s Guernica or Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, or even, a bit closer to home, any of Kerry James Marshall’s recent works. While Marshall’s huge canvasses vividly depict the daily micro-oppressions that shape Black American lives, Panashe Rubaya, who was winner of the Saul Hay emerging artist award, has chosen the opposite course.
In the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Panashe Rubaya says: “Black trauma has become far too normal, constantly on display throughout all types of media, and I choose to create art that demonstrates that, despite all odds, Black people are not just fighting and surviving, but are also thriving and happy. The issues that are suffered by our communities…are not who we are. Struggle, pain and sorrow are afflictions but not our identity.”
And this choice works well. Her pieces are charming in every sense of the word and, as a result, they are subversively political. It would be impossible to hang these on your wall and not celebrate Black life.
Stylistically, they remind me of Peter Blake, particularly his Babe Rainbow, which captured a moment in popular culture. Panashe Rubaya quotes some other Black artists, including Amy Sherald and Albert Irvin, as direct influences. A quick Google search of their work and this is evident. However, Rubaya’s work is anything but derivative, which is a remarkable feat considering that she is self-taught.
Panashe Rubaya studied biomedical science but gave it up because she found its discipline too restrictive. She reveals: “You had to follow the procedures, there was no room for experiment.”
But biomedical science’s loss is fine art’s gain. She is extremely talented, which is clear from the way she layers colour to create skin tones. Rather impressively, she is only 29-years-old and is rapidly developing her skill as an artist. I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Inviolable – Joy as a form of resistance is a small exhibition with just nine canvases in total. But it’s absolutely worth the visit. The Saul Hay Gallery is in Castlefield, close to Dukes 92 and accessible via the canal towpath (you can walk along a passage through the middle of the Bass Warehouse building and cross the bridge to the other side). If you’re heading to HOME for a bit of culture or just a beer, it’s only a five-minute walk from there.
If I have a quibble, and my regular readers will know that I generally have a quibble, it’s that I’d love to have one of these on my wall, but I can’t afford the original paintings and there are no prints for sale. However, I know that the gallery of thinking about producing some so, if you visit the exhibition and you’d also like a print, do let them know.
Joy as a form of resistance, an exhibition of new paintings by Linnet Panashe Rubaya, is on at Saul Hay Gallery in Manchester until July 4, 2021. Visit the website for more information.