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ArtNet News | Spotlight: Kelly Sinnapah Mary Explores Personal Histories and Ancestry in Her First U.S. Solo Show

What You Need to Know: On view through January 13, 2024, Aicon gallery of New York is presenting the solo exhibition “Kelly Sinnapah Mary.” The artist’s eponymous show marks her debut solo presentation in the United States, and is curated by Professor Andil Gosine of York University, Toronto, whom Sinnapah Mary has collaborated with frequently before. Featuring new paintings and sculptures, the body of work illustrates Sinnapah Mary’s ongoing exploration of her ancestral roots and relationship with flora and fauna. Originally from Guadeloupe, the artist explores her early identification with the Afro-Caribbean identity, and its evolution as she learned about her Tamil heritage, which in turn imagines a form of impossible return. Frequently referencing literature and poetry and using her work as a form of “visual notebook,” the show is at once deeply personal and collectively relatable.

Why We Like It: Sinnapah Mary’s pieces invite prolonged looking, parsing through the subtle yet immensely intricate patterns and details of her work to discover their stories and meanings. Elements of fantasy and reality co-mingle in her composition and offer the sense of an ongoing narrative that have the potential to be traced. Heightened by recurring figures, or perhaps more appropriately, characters—like the schoolgirl Sanbras, an allusion and resistance to the character of The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899)— Sinnapah Mary crafts new storylines and procures new perspectives on both past and present, while interweaving her own personal experiences and heritage in as well. “As viewers enter my worlds, I hope they find and try to decipher its riddles… and that the paintings might arouse reflections of their own,” the artist commented of the works in the present exhibition. Through Sinnapah Mary’s work viewers are presented not only with the artist’s own lines of inquiry, but are offered a path to explore their own.

According to the Gallery: “Throughout her exhibition, Sinnapah Mary challenges the viewer to look deeper with her mix of motifs culled from Hinduism, Christianity, literature, and the artist’s own life. Symbols are combined to form intricately patterned tattoos that creep along the skin of her figures like vines. Lush landscapes teeming with tropical plants and animals, both native and invasive to Guadeloupe, slowly reveal their hidden depths. Even the carefree and innocent sculptures turn sinister upon closer inspection with severed limbs and scrawls of profanity. Sinnapah Mary’s exhibition introduces gallery visitors to a powerful voice in Indian diasporic art through painting, sculpture, tapestry, and sound, making for a sparkling premiere of the artist’s work.”