Tschabalala Self

Reassembling everyday life.

Tschabalala Self (she/her) was born in 1990 and raised in Harlem, New York. She now lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

Harlem

The energetic beauty of everyday Black life is central to Self’s work. Her practice is firmly rooted in Harlem, New York, where she grew up. The ‘composite characters’ in her portraits are inspired by the people she encounters in the neighbourhood.

Career

Self is hugely popular both inside and outside the art world. She’s had shows at major museums and has artworks in public collections across the world. In recent years she’s explored theatre, performance and fashion – including collaborations with UGG and Louis Vuitton.

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Collaborations with this artist

Practice overview

Tschabalala Self makes portraits with impact – bold, bright and tactile. The works cherish Black social life. Women sit, chill and chat. Sometimes they hang out in groups, and sometimes they enjoy a moment of solitude. While she calls herself a painter, Self mainly works with fabric. Her process is intuitive and hands-on. First, she draws on her studio floor. Then she cuts up patterned fabric and old, unfinished works. Scraps of silk, fur and hand-painted textiles are also added into the mix. Next, these shapes are arranged into curvaceous human forms and sewn onto canvas. Self uses her sewing machine like a paint brush, drawing lines and shapes with the stitches. All these material processes are acts of resistance. "I use materials in an unconventional way to subvert the status quo," she explains.

Self is hugely inspired by her mother and the community of women who brought her up. They were role models throughout her childhood and, crucially, taught her to sew. The act of sewing, and working with textiles in general, are also ways to reclaim women's work. Throughout history, there’s a divide between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ that still lingers today. Generally, craft is given less respect and tends to be attached to things that women have traditionally done, like sewing. Self radically refutes this idea – joining a lineage of artists who have done so too, like NedRa Bonds and the Gee’s Bend Quilters. This sense of community and pride runs throughout Self's bedazzling art.

“You don’t have to use paint to make a painting.”Tschabalala Self