Liquid liberation: artist Torkwase Dyson on her aquatic obsession

Liquid liberation: artist Torkwase Dyson on her aquatic obsession

From the transportation of slaves across the Atlantic to the drowning of a teenager at Lake Michigan, the artist explores how water connects to Black history – and now she’s looking inside the human body

Torkwase Dyson likes to be near water. “I look for it,” she says, “whether it’s a river, a lake or the ocean. I prefer to be in an environment that has those things.” The Brooklyn-based artist has long been concerned with how such watery spaces connect to the climate crisis, colonisation and Black history. Her 2019 exhibition 1919: Black Water featured paintings and sculptures exploring the murder of Eugene Williams who, along with four other Black teenagers, went swimming in Lake Michigan on a homemade raft. It drifted towards a segregated white beach and Williams was struck by a rock thrown by someone there. He drowned – an event that sparked the Chicago race riot of 1919.

Dyson’s explorations continue this month, as Liquid a Place opens at the Pace gallery in London. The show is a result of time Dyson spent by the River Thames and her research into the people and objects it has transported. “The title comes from my interest in investigating the water in our own bodies. All of the science proves that water holds memory. So Liquid a Place is saying our bodies are a place, a site of information.” The sculptures are partly inspired by pipelines, as well as the Middle Passage, the route enslaved Africans took across the Atlantic Ocean.

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