“I remember being punished as a child for staring, for those hard intense direct looks children would give grown-ups, looks that were seen as confrontational, as gestures of resistance, challenges to authority… there is power in looking.” – bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation
On the site page for Jorian Charlton’s and Kadine Lindsay’s collaborative exhibition, fi di gyal dem, reads this quote, bold and centered. In Charlton’s and Lindsay’s energetic and intimate portraits, their Black female figures stare powerfully at the viewer, forcing us to question who is looking and who is being looked at. Each woman, painted or photographed, meets our gaze with vigor and confidence, charisma and power; unlike the many depicted women and Black women of art history, they are certainly more subject than object, neither shying away from nor inviting our gaze, but reciprocating it with energy and unwavering self-assurance.
The majority of works in fi di gyal dem consists of intimate, alluring, and empowering portraits of Black women, sometimes the artists themselves, in interior settings photographed by Charlton. Then, these photographs are often embellished with surreal and stylized illustrated Black female figures painted by Lindsay. Besides photography, the exhibition consists of paintings, animation, and other mixed media works. The artists’ style, approach, and practice are heavily influenced by their shared Jamaican heritage.
Kadine Lindsay and Jorian Charlton, Driva, 2021, mixed media
Charlton’s and Lindsay’s work embodies a spirit of celebration, but also of defiance: their figures refuse to “lower their gaze, tone down their sexuality, or to become less vibrant or nurturing in a world that conditions them to be anything but”. Depicting a multitude of Black women, including themselves, these artists’ collaborative work conveys a powerful message of rebelliousness and refusal. The show’s online presentation situates Charlton’s and Lindsay’s work besides “user-generated meme content that embodies this spirit of refusal”, a nod to our current cultural climate, but also to the long history of Black women’s cultural production and Black cultural innovation.
In Under Me Sensei (2021), Lindsay poses for Charlton, reclining on a couch and smoking a joint in soft, bright sunlight. Beside the photographed Lindsay, two female figures are painted onto the photograph by Lindsay to appear as if sitting on the floor next to her, both smoking as well. These figures, stylized and dynamic, recall Bratz or anime characters with their glamourous appearances and huge cartoonish eyes. Each figure, painted or photographed, wears matching lingerie. The setting is a stylish room, with vibrant patterned rugs, an ornate standing ashtray, and bright red curtains from which sunlight emanates.
Kadine Lindsay and Jorian Charlton, Under Me Sensei, 2021, mixed media
Charlton’s photography, reminiscent both of documentary and fashion photography, places Black women at its center. Glamourous shots, sharp compositions, unique angles, and bold subjects appear in her work. Charlton brings the interiority of her subjects to the forefront of her photographed world, empowering her subjects with the click of a shutter. Her addition of her depicted women’s names to the titles of her work emphasizes their role in the creative process, as subjects rather than simply objects in Charlton’s photography. In the online exhibition two images are often paired to highlight or juxtapose their message.
Jorian Charlton, Untitled (Georgia), 2020 (left) and Kadine Lindsay, Bodacious Babe, 2020 (right)
Charlton’s photograph Untitled (Sydné & Keverine) (2020) takes place in a similarly sunbathed interior setting and depicts two women with colourful hair and sunglasses. The two poses, holding each other close, as if looking at the camera over their shoulder.
Jorian Charlton, Untitled (Nevine & Nyabel), 2021, (left) and Untitled (Sydné & Keverine), 2020 (right)
On the other hand, Lindsay’s paintings blend the surreal and real to create portraits of Black women that live in a world that both appears magical and speaks to her own experience. Her use of bright colours is a nod to her Jamaican upbringing. Her imagined worlds, luxurious, bright, and women-dominated, allow her subjects to exist without the constraints of the outside world, enjoying rest, sensuality, and beauty alone or with other women.
Lindsay’s painting Pon Di Pole (2021) depicts a pole dancer with otherworldly blue skin and a long, coiling purple braid, dancing on a pole within a fantastical, super-natural setting. Here, Lindsay blurs the boundaries between interior and exterior, placing her poles on cut tree trunks as if they are growing from them, covered with leaves and vines. Here, the dancer is solitary, and any allure or eroticism her dance may suggest is for her pleasure alone.
Kadine Lindsay, Pon Di Pole, 2021, acrylic on canvas
Both Lindsay and Charlton’s portraits evoke sensuality, confidence, and self-exploration, eschewing harmful myths about Black women and their sexuality for more intimate, self-possessed and autonomous visions of personal sexual awakening and sensuality. In Charlton’s Untitled (Miki) (2021), a woman lies alone on a bed, staring into the camera, dressed only in very little lingerie and extremely high heels, accompanied by a pink teddy bear. Like in Pon Di Pole, hints of pop culture erotica and sexual entertainment are disrupted by the figures’ isolation, confidence, interiority and agency.
Jorian Charlton, Untitled (Miki), 2021
Jorian Charlton’s and Kadine Lindsay’s approaches to depicting Black women are radically different in style and media, yet their effect feels harmoniously correspondent. Charlton’s and Lindsay’s collaborative work is an exaltation of everyday life and luxury: glamourous hair, clothing, and makeup, glittering, colourful, cozy interiors, rest, relaxation, companionship. Fi di gyal dem is, as the site expresses, an “intimate celebration of the interior lives of Black women”; an ode to self-love, female friendship, artistic collaboration, and Black womanhood.
Images are courtesy of the artists.
*Exhibition information: Jorian Charlton and Kadine Lindsay, fi di gyal dem, May 5 – December 10, 2022, online exhibition, Doris McCarthy Gallery. Part of Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival 2022.