3 July 2020 – 18 April 2021
PUBLIC FIGURE is a new series of artist’s commissions for the public space of Antwerp’s main historic park (Stadspark). For this first edition, artist Tramaine de Senna (1981, U.S., lives and works in Antwerp) was invited to create a new bronze sculpture that will be on view for one year amongst the other “figures” in the park. PUBLIC FIGURE is an initiative of Kunst in de Stad – Middelheimmuseum.
Since its inauguration in 1869, the park is adorned with statues and monuments depicting or celebrating noted historical figures such as painters and poets, monarchs and military men. Now, under the moniker of PUBLIC FIGURE, a disused stone plinth offers contemporary artists a yearly opportunity to add new figures to this public space. By doing so, these new artworks respond to questions about the meaning of public representation today: Who or what do we put on a pedestal? Who or what do we depict in the urban common realm?
“With the commissioning series PUBLIC FIGURE, the city invests once again in the presence of sculptures in public space, this time from a contemporary artistic perspective and a current understanding of urban society. Young artists are also given the opportunity to try their hand at art in public space and to address, for the duration of one year, the residents and visitors of Antwerp." – Nabilla Ait Daoud, Alderman for Culture
For PUBLIC FIGURE #1, artist Tramaine de Senna creates a bronze sculpture that is informed by identity politics, trompe-l’oeil sculptures, and pop culture. The title of the work, Figure of Color, allows de Senna to articulate the political scope of her work, and to express her love for color as a symbolic carrier of meaning and emotion. The title refers to the English expression “person of color,” which is mainly used in the U.S. to indicate non-white citizens. Much like in her previous work, de Senna explores the possible transformations and ambiguous manifestations of body, identity and form.
With Figure of Color, de Senna captures the multi-layered nature of identity, and the many forms we take on to show ourselves or to hide behind. In her own words: “I see it in myself and with some people in my family that we construct appearances to blend or fit in, creating doubles or more.” Who is then this figure the artist has added to the “residents” of the park? The figure seems hyper feminine –long flowing hair, wide skirts– yet remains unknown, facing away, only visible from the back. By allowing the appearance of the work to alter depending on our perspective and position, de Senna indicated that we are never just one thing alone. Who we are can never be grasped in just one look. The meaning and experience of the work, much like our sense of self, is always the result of internal and external changes.
From a wider, art historical perspective, the figure of the unknown woman can be interpreted as a nod to the historic invisibility of women in the municipal public art collection: there are very few sculptures of women (save for allegorical nudes) or made by women artists.
This is the first time Tramaine de Senna uses bronze. Her oeuvre thus far mainly features plastics, textile, ceramic and composites. Still in the spirit of the title and its societal message, the artist set out using pigmented wax to alter and broaden the color scheme of the patina of the bronze. Putting wax layers over bronze sculptures helps to protect them from the elements, but here, they are also vital to the appearance of the “colorful” figure. With time, the wax layers dissolve and need to be reapplied, allowing for a new color palette to be chosen. In using wax as camouflage or make-up, the sculpture is able to transform and adapt to its surrounding, blending in, or standing out.
PUBLIC FIGURE is initiated and curated by Samuel Saelemakers, Curator Kunst in de Stad, Middelheim Museum.
ABOUT TRAMAINE DE SENNA
Tramaine de Senna is a studio-based artist born in 1981 in California, U.S., and lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. De Senna is a laureate of the Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten (HISK) in Ghent, Belgium. Prior to this, she studied architecture and art at the University of California – Berkeley, and fine arts at Sint Joost in Breda and 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.
Recent exhibitions of her work include MASTERBLASTER, M HKA, Antwerp (2020); An exhibition with posters, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (2019); Tramaine de Senna, Mélange, Cologne, (2019); Supernatural, Pulsar, Antwerp, (2019); In the Pines, Haecken & Ooghen, Antwerp (2018); Universal Folklore: Farah Atassi and Tramaine de Senna, Constant Permekemuseum/Mu.ZEE, Jabbeke (2018); /’haɪə en (nʊ)/ Tramaine de Senna: Rancho Meadows, Trampoline Gallery, Antwerp (2018); Small Works, Hammerfriar, Healdsburg, California (2017); Sixth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia (2015); Tramaine de Senna, Art Center Hugo Voeten, Herentals, Belgium (2015).
ABOUT KUNST IN DE STAD
The Kunst in de Stad exhibition programme consists of projects by artists on various scales and of differing duration. What they have in common is that they formulate an artistic, visual response to questions about art in public space. These include: What is the present-day role of monuments? Which people deserve to be placed on a pedestal in the city? How do we relate to collection items from the past when the social context in which they were created is substantially different from today’s society? Which other art forms might enrich our public space in addition to the traditional statues?
These short-term projects are a way of putting the existing historical collection in dialogue with contemporary perspectives and art practices. They are also the perfect way of giving shape to new aims and ambitions for Antwerp’s public art collection, of investing in young artists, and of listening to innovative voices in the local and regional art world.
Exhibitions in the city shorten the distance between the public, the artwork, and the artist. As such, questions concerning the social predicament of life in the contemporary urban context are never far off. The short-term projects by Kunst in de Stad make it possible to respond to current issues and to link up with an international frame of reference.
Tramaine de Senna – Figure of Color is on view day and night from 3 July 2020 to 18 April 2021.Address: Stadspark, 2000 Antwerp. The PUBLIC FIGURE plinth is situated near the playground and the side entrance of the park on Quinten Matsijslei.
Images: Tramaine de Senna, Figure of Color, bronze and pigmented wax, 2020. Photography Tom Cornille, courtesy Kunst in de Stad - Middelheim Museum