Image: Zadie Xa at Leeds Art Gallery
Portrait of Zadie Xa. Photo: Benito Mayor Vallejo
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Zadie Xa at Leeds Art Gallery Review

4 September 2021

By Aliya Say

Zadie Xa’s exhibition here is a visual and oral fable, a myth. The story, which the artist tells in a non-linear fashion through paintings, installation, and modulated light, is inspired by Korean shamanic culture. The show’s central installation features Xa’s signature textile patchwork as ritualistic garments, as well as quirky sculptures made in collaboration with artist Benito Mayor Vallejo, including ceramic shoes in animal and vegetable shapes. Its accompanying audio invites the audience to close their eyes and follow the multi-faceted, multispecies narrator as they take us through a winding tale which cycles stories of transformation, remembrance, and renewal.

The tale’s five protagonists, Fox, Orca, Serpent, Conch, and Cabbage, are sacred spirits, wisdom bearers, forgotten interlocutors whose voices have been habitually silenced in the ever-circling derangement of the great industrial transformation that chops and dices the earth and its inhabitants into segments ranked by their economic value: as assets to be privatised. Xa cautiously yet insistently brings those perspectives to the fore as the story alternates between dream, prayer, sermon, and eco-activist outcry, asking us to listen, to move, to trust, “to squint to see the stars.” Cabbage’s vegetal voice stays with me: “Because I exist, I think you love me,” she says, shifting the story’s tone from ecocidal guilt to a fledgling hopefulness. Xa conducts a reverent artistic-shamanic ritual, striving to remind us that now is not the time for fear, but for regeneration and healing, for new mythologies and new tales of kinship, beyond the humanity’s self-centred gaze.

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