This spring in the Hammer’s lobby gallery, Tschabalala Self will present the final installment of her “Bodega Run” project. The project marks the first time the painter has placed her work within an environment, fully transporting visitors into the sights, color, and energy of the kind of neighborhood corner store she grew up going to in Harlem. Self presents the bodega as a gathering space, where economic, social, and political issues take center stage. “The bodega is and was a space created for people of color by people of color, to serve the needs of communities of color. A hood menagerie, the bodega is emblematic of black metropolitan life,” the artist has said.
Whitewaller spoke with Self about this deeply personal project, which is on view at the Hammer through April 28.
WHITEWALLER: What was starting point for “Bodega Run”?
TSCHABALALA SELF: My show at the Hammer is the fifth iteration of “Bodega Run.” The first was at Pilar Corrias Gallery in London in September 2017. The starting point for the project was a desire to place my figures in an environment. For so long, within my practice, my figures had existed within a liminal space defined by abstract color fields. My exploration of the bodega has allowed me to situate my figures in a real and socially relevant space. Embarking on this project has challenged my work both conceptually and formally.
WW: What does the corner bodega represent to you?
TS: I was initially attracted to the corner store, the bodega, as an environment because I believed it was emblematic of the larger community which existed outside of it. Growing up in Harlem, the bodega was a space I interacted with a lot. Bodegas were and still are part of the visual landscape in black and brown neighborhoods in New York City. The bodega is an iconic space for New Yorkers, and one which is rife with both personal and political significance. The bodega represents to me the trials and triumphs of black and brown metropolitan life.
WW: Can you tell us about your plans for the installation at the Hammer?
TS: My plans for my installation at the Hammer are to bring “Bodega Run” to life in L.A. This installation will have a renewed focus on my sculptural works and lean more toward the fantastical than previous iterations. I am taking my show at the Hammer as an opportunity to merge the aesthetics of my bodega project with that of my previous body of work.
WW: How are you hoping visitors will interact with the installation, given its location in the lobby?
TS: I believe the installation’s proximity to the lobby allows the visitors to interact with the exhibition space more directly, like they would with an actual store. I am excited to see how this dynamic plays out with audiences.
WW: Can you describe your studio space for us?
TS: A collection of knicks and knacks.
WW: You work across a variety of media. What kind of materials have you found yourself drawn to lately?
TS: Lately I have been obsessed with Styrofoam.