Limerick, Ireland
Mary Evans, Thousands are Sailing, detail, 2016. Photo by Miriam O'Connor, courtesy the artist and Tiwani Contemporary

Mary Evans

b. 1963, Nigeria

In Mary Evans’ work she creates silhouettes and pictograms hand cut from brown craft paper, to produce site-based, spatially dynamic installations. Pattern is a strong leitmotif in her practice. With an interest in delving beyond the purely ornamental, Evans not only infuses historical, geographical, or architectural clues into her work but also uses symbols and imagery from popular culture.

Evans’ research interests are centred on the social and political frameworks of diaspora, migration, global mobility, and exchange. She investigates how the history of modern Britain is, in many respects, the legacy of its imperial past. Her work highlights the circuitous route via which people arrive and settle somewhere through emigration and diaspora – willingly or by force – what affects people on those journeys, what they are forced to learn and relearn, what they choose to remember and forget, and how they are irrevocably changed. The loose narratives in the work are played out in a psycho-geographical space of reference, loss, longing, alienation, belonging, and expulsion. Her flat, decorative patterning emphasizes the reductive nature of racial stereotyping – this reduction is rendered even more disturbing through the use of both ‘innocent’ and ‘loaded’ material.

Evans synthesises elements of her African background and her European upbringing. Born in Nigeria and having grown up in North West London in the late sixties, Evans’ school friends were Irish, Afro-Caribbean, and Indian: ‘We were all united in our immigrant status, she explains. During history lessons in secondary school she was taught about the imperial relationship between England and Ireland and the subsequent ‘Troubles’, the euphemism for the battle between the IRA and the British establishment.

‘Thousands Are Sailing’ is a song released by the London-based Celtic band the Pogues in 1988. The lyrics and plaintive manner in which it is sung, in the style of an Irish folk ballad, tell stories of Irish emigration to the United States:

The island it is silent now

But the ghosts still haunt the waves

And the torch lights up a famished man

Who fortune could not save …

Evans explains: ‘Perhaps because of my early friendships with Irish people this music spoke to me deeply with the images it conjured up of migration, loss, belonging, alienation, and desire – all emotions I felt an affinity with due to my own diasporic experience.’ For EVA International,Thousands Are Sailing (2016) became manifest as a large wall installation depicting figurative narratives in the style of history paintings. The disposable craft paper is a metaphor for the disposable lives of those depicted in the work.

Mary Evans lives and works in London. After completing a BA (Hons) Fine Art Painting from Gloucestershire College, she completed an MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London in 1989, and a Postgraduate at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, in 1993. In 2012 she was awarded a PG Certificate in Academic Practice in Art, Design & Communication from the University of the Arts, London. In 2014 she was awarded the Rockefeller Foundation Arts & Literary Arts Residency, Bellagio Centre, Italy, and in 2010 she was the recipient of the Smithsonian Artists Research Fellowship, National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC. Evans’s research is centred on the social, political, and historical frameworks of the Diaspora, migration, global mobility, and exchange. Evans is an Associate Lecturer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

Recent projects and exhibitions include: It Takes a Village… (2016), Allen & Overy Amsterdam; They Came from Outer Space (2015), Goethe Institute, Johannesburg, South Africa; Towards Intersections (2015), UNISA Gallery Pretoria, South Africa; Art Brussels (2015); Cape Town Art Fair (2015); Where Do I End and You Begin? (2014), City Arts Centre, Edinburgh Arts Festival; Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art (2013), Blaffer Gallery, Houston, Texas; Du Bois in Our Time Commission (2014), University of Massachusetts and Accra, Ghana; BIAC Martinique International Biennal of Contemporary Art (2013), Fort-de-France; Cut and Paste (2012), Tiwani Contemporary, London; 3rd Guangzhou Triennial (2008), China; Meditations (2008), Baltimore Museum of Art; and Port City (2007), Arnolfini, Bristol.

(Text: EVA 2016, Still (the) Barbarians, catalogue)


Back to Artists