2019, HARLESDEN HIGH STREET, LONDON
IMAGES COURTESY Mitsuko Moulson
This site specific installation made for Daria Borisova and Harlesden High Street Gallery incorporates two new works:
‘Full English’, 2019, 90cm x 60cm x 4.5cm. Oil and acrylic on canvas.
English Breakfasts and Garden Gnomes are internationally synonymous with British subculture (despite the latter’s origin outside of these Isles). The Fry up became popular in the 13th Century amongst the gentry and in1847 Sir Charles Isham initiated the fashion for gnomes in the United Kingdom after he brought 21 terracotta versions back from Germany to his home of Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Two trends born in the ruling classes and presently partaken by the everyman. Two trends which regularly split a nation based on their taste for kitsch or all things fried. Two trends that perfectly illustrate the futile class divide within the UK and the snobbery inherent within it.
Garden Gnomes declined in popularity after WWI, but became sought after again in the 1930’s following the release of Disney’s ‘Snow White’. Much like the wicked Queen offering a poisoned apple in this animation-so too did the serpent in the garden of Eden. An apple and a snake that took the innocence away from both who partook (and if this is to be believed also set in motion the fall of man and beginning of cardinal sin). As such Massey has utilised a Cobra Movement-esque style of painting (an aesthetic born out of a naïve and childlike manner of paint application) to represent this imminent postlapsarian loss of purity.
Massey combines feast, faerie and faith as it is a triad similar to this, which have influenced the concept of social class in British society from Feudalism to present date.
Full English hangs in a room amidst a throng of birds re-imagined from Snow White and the forest where Happy and Bashful lived. The wall where they reside has been painted green, linking it to the green pastures of ‘Marielle’ (opposite) and in so doing diminishing the corporate feel of the space. The inclusion of three birds flying up this wall further illustrates the removal from the workplace and side step into the home by their overt nod to the ceramic flying birds of the 30’s. These avifauna-most commonly ducks-adorned the living room walls of the would-be middle-classes from 1938 onwards and acts as the third long-lasting fads which have engulfed the United Kingdom and divided it based on ‘class and taste’.
‘Marielle’, 2019, 152.5cm x 110cm x 19cm. Oil on canvas with bespoke wooden feet.
Marielle is based on the late Mariella Franco and fifth in the ‘Original Gyal Dem’ series. ‘Original Gyal Dem’ discusses the farcical disparity between the genders, in burying women who have changed the course of history in the gender stereotypes, curb calls, ageism and objectification which has condemned them to the role of ‘the second sex’. Women presently occupy around 0.5% of recorded history. In reaction to this Massey has immortalised Jane Austen, Rosa Parks, Valentina Tereshkova, Indira Gandhi and now Mariella Franco in the equally endemically masculine Medium of paint. Five women whose lives were pivotal to the Modern era and yet when compared to their male counter parts are still relatively unrecognised.
Three doves shroud Mariella as they symbolise maternity, peace and love which were evident in the late Franco in droves. The first and largest dove is the upturned 2011 Human Rights logo-as she was an activist for the cause until her untimely passing. The mourning dove (emphasis inflected on the former) perches on tree stump and is also a sly nod to the demeaning term ‘bird’ which is often attributed to woman and below which a life-sized Dove soap rests on her lapel touching on the beautification of women.
The spoon offers synergy of taking tea, woman’s evenings and ‘shall I be mother’ surrounding the tea spoon. It is however also an overt nod to the daughter that she left behind as the L inscribed baby gift represents her next of kin Luyara Santos. This imagery also mixes metaphors as it touches on the British saying ‘being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth’ which is synonymous with hereditary wealth. This was not the case for Franco as she was born in the Maré and started working to contribute to family bills at the meagre age of 11. Having been brought up in a favela she spent the majority of her adult life campaigning and fighting for their residents. The prism of colours within the canvas, coupled with its rainbow feet also point towards how she was an openly gay council person in an age where other lgbtq+ Brazilian leaders are leaving the country due to the political climate of the far right induced by President Jair Bolsonaro.
The canvas frame containing Marielle Franco is a further nod to the stifling box that women have been placed in for time immemorial. Like this systemic bigotry-these linear restraints are also starting to fracture as symbolism breaks free of the stretcher and fills the galleries walls. In this installation Marielle rests as birds which have overshadowed her in paint (and infantilising in life) break free of the stretcher and fill the room.