Charmaine Watkiss’ largest institutional solo exhibition to date will be presented at Abbot Hall in Kendal. From 20 July, the Cumbria art gallery will be showcasing Legacy, an exhibition featuring drawings, as well as a touring installation from Liverpool Biennial 2023, ‘uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things’, for Watkiss’.

London-based artist Charmaine Watkiss (b.1964) examines history and cultural tradition through the unifying language of plants and their properties.

Inspired by archival research, Watkiss explores the interconnectivity between ancestry, botany and cosmology. Using her own likeness as a conduit to reflect collective experiences, the artist refers to her works as ‘memory stories’. Largely consisting of pencil drawings, Watkiss’ artistic practice incorporates materials such as watercolour and ink to form multi-layered narratives. Each work represents the intertwining of people and nature, exploring the wisdom inherent within plant and human life.

Considering today’s urgent ecological crises, the work acts as a reminder of the perpetual loss of biodiversity and cultural diversity, whilst emphasising the importance of both to our survival.

Watkiss’ work has featured in high-profile group exhibitions including: The Wisdom Tree at Leeds Art Gallery, Drawing attentionemerging British artists group show at the British Museum and Breakfast Under the Tree, curated by Russell Tovey, a group show at Carl Freedman Gallery. Last year, she was also selected as a commissioned artist for the 12th edition of the Liverpool Biennial 2023. This year, her work is included in group shows at the Venice BiennalePerez Art Museum MiamiWolverhampton Art Gallery and Drawing Biennial, London.

The exhibition at Abbot Hall is the largest gathering of Watkiss’ work in a public gallery and includes a new body of drawings. This recent work has been informed by the artist’s extensive research into historic botanical collections, including a recent fellowship responding to the work of naturalist, physician and slave owner Sir Hans Sloane. Also, on display is ‘Witness’ (2023), an installation originally commissioned for Liverpool Biennial 2023. The installation is a ‘memory story’ told through detailed large-scale drawings and sculpture. The illustrated figures are symbols of collection and reflection, representing the unheard voices and stories which survived the Middle Passage (the forced voyage of enslaved people across the Atlantic). They invite us to contemplate, reflect and gather our energy for the journey towards healing.

Artist Charmaine Watkiss states “What I seek to extract through my narratives is stories of empowerment because when I read accounts I think, what is it about the human spirit that can survive such difficulty? So, the women I depict are very much empowered figures, it’s that resilience and strength I really want to draw on.”

Helen StalkerAssociate Curator for Lakeland Arts, says “We’re delighted to bring such a significant exhibition of Charmaine’s work to Cumbria. The acquisition of two works by the artist into the Abbot Hall collection in 2022 developed into an ongoing relationship that has sparked extraordinary dialogue in relation to our collection, location, and history. The exhibition will form a point of focus for Abbot Hall’s exploration of landscape and identity and offers opportunities for our audiences to contemplate and reflect on the connecting power of nature.“

Exhibition information

Charmaine Watkiss: Legacy

Abbot Hall

20 July – 28 December 2024

Wednesday – Saturday, 10 – 4pm

Exhibition tickets will be available to prebook online at www.abbothall.org.uk

Gallery admission includes access to all displays and exhibitions on show, including the Collection Galleries and Claude Cahun: Beneath this Mask (running until 3 August 2024).

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