Karen McLean
Ar’n’t I a Woman!

Karen McLean, Ar'n't I a Woman, 2022, installation view, The New art Gallery Walsall. Photo: Mark Hinton

Ar’n’t I a Woman! is an exhibition of commissioned work by Birmingham-based Trinidadian artist Karen McLean. Through her artistic practice, she has consistently researched and referenced her Caribbean upbringing and heritage in evocative sculptural installations concerned with issues of identity, ‘home’ and post-colonial cultures.


 

This exhibition reveals Karen’s ongoing interest in the history, folklore and material cultures of Caribbean colonial history and its close relationship with slavery.  Her ongoing interest in the roles of women within these histories is evident as she draws on a long tradition of gendered activities such as weaving, stitching and the dying of fabrics.  Her powerful and complex works explore the symbolic and historic weight of materials and interrogates their relationship to British colonial legacies.

 

The title of the exhibition references Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech which was delivered in 1851 at the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio.  Through her work, Karen platforms the role enslaved women of the Caribbean played in resistance, both in known rebellions but also through everyday acts of subversion.  Taking centre stage in this body of work is the figure of Queen Nanny, leader of the Windward Maroons who, in the 18th century, fought against British colonisers. Also present is the folkloric trickster spider Anansi, the tale of which survived the passage of slavery.

 

For multiple works within the exhibition, Karen has utilised hessian sacking, known for its strength and durability. The material alludes to shipping and commercial exchange and also acts as a metaphor for the womb and its commodification.  To transform the materials, Karen has applied a range of processes including branding, hand stitching with animal suture thread, screen-printing, dyeing them with tea and coffee and embellishing them with cowrie shells.

 

Ar’n’t I a Woman! has been created to highlight the lost histories of enslaved women and honour those women who used their strength and ingenuity to survive adversity and oppression. Drawing parallels with issues facing women today, Karen celebrates this ingenuity and vitality and acknowledges the continued resistance of women for control of their bodies.

 

Karen McLean Digital Exhibition Guide

 

 

Masterclass with Karen McLean: Screen-printing and Embellishment

Saturday 14 May, 10am – 4.30pm 

In this special, day-long workshop participants will explore themes of colonial history, reproduction, enslavement and resistance in Karen’s exhibition Ar’n’t I a Woman!. Karen will demonstrate techniques in screen-printing and embellishment before participants design their own stencils, screen-print onto hessian, and embellish with gold thread, gold beads and cowrie shells, inspired by Karen’s work.

 

This workshop is suitable for people of all abilities. No prior making experience is necessary.

Participants must be over the age of 18.

£21 per person. Tea, coffee and biscuits included.

Booking is essential as places are limited.  Book in person at the Reception desk, call 01922 654400 or email: catherine.james@walsall.gov.uk

 

 

In Conversation:  Karen McLean with Jessica Taylor recorded on Saturday 2 April 2022 at The New Art Gallery Walsall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this short film, Birmingham-based Trinidadian artist Karen McLean talks about commissioned work made for her exhibition ‘Ar’n’t I a Woman!’ which is currently on show at the Gallery until 3 July. The exhibition reveals Karen’s ongoing interest in the history, folklore and material cultures of Caribbean colonial history and its close relationship with slavery. It has also been created to highlight the lost histories of enslaved women and honour those women who used their strength and ingenuity to survive adversity and oppression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this short film artist Karen McLean talks about her new exhibition ‘Ar’n’t I a Woman’.