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Canoodling Calypsos and colonial critiques at opening of David Zwirner’s new Caribbean show

Canoodling Calypsos and colonial critiques at opening of David Zwirner's new Trinidadian show


Canoodling Calypsos and colonial critiques at opening of David Zwirner’s new Caribbean show

One of Jasmine Thomas Girvan’s sculptural works at the opening of Affinities at David Zwirner London
© Dan Weill Photography

Two artists who both reside in Trinidad are the subject of a newly opened exhibition at David Zwirner London. Affinities (until 21 September) merges the multimedia sculptural work of Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, in what is her first UK showing, with new paintings by Chris Ofili.

Friends for more than 20 years, their work uses very different means to express a shared love of myth, metaphor and the lush Caribbean landscape. Ofili’s richly coloured canvases reimagine Homer’s Odyssey, with the femme fatale Calypso depicted as a striking mermaid and Odysseus her dark skinned suitor as they snooze and canoodle in a watery idyll. Thomas-Girvan, however, draws on her early experience as a jeweller to combine natural elements—coral, feathers, horns, palm fronds—with finely wrought bronze, silver, wood and glass to present a parade of boats, vessels and fantastic elaborate deities that are part-human, part-creature. These all tap into Trinidadian traditions and histories and culminate in a terrifyingly exquisite installation in which a dainty teatime table erupts with stark reminders of the brutal atrocities that lie behind the genteel commodities of tea and sugar.

Chris Ofili (left) with David Zwirner director and Affinities curator Angela Choon (middle) and Jasmine Thomas-Girvan (right) at a dinner hosted by the gallery at the ICA
Courtesy of Louisa Buck

A sense of affinity ran throughout the opening night which brought together an impressive crowd of fellow artists to support the duo’s joint enterprise. These included the fellow Trinidadian resident Peter Doig along with Jeremy Deller, Tasha Amini, Lisa Brice, Isaac Julien and Tomma Abts. The collegiate spirit also extended to the fact that representatives of Ofili’s London gallery Victoria Miro were also very much in evidence. Speaking at the celebratory dinner held upstairs at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Ofili declared that there should be more exhibitions which expressed such creative connections. “Discussion between artists really, really matters. We have to be generous to each other.” In these divisive times, such a spirit of unity is most welcome.

• Both Chris Ofili and Jasmine Thomas-Girvan will feature on our forthcoming podcast, out this Friday. To listen to all of our podcasts, click here.

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