Shannon T. Lewis: The Softness of Much Handled Things

28 May - 2 July 2022 Chicago

Mariane Ibrahim is pleased to present a solo exhibition of new work by Shannon T. Lewis, entitled, The Softness of Much Handled Things, marking the artists debut show with the gallery, in Chicago. On view from May 28 to July 2, 2022, the new work explores the notion of how “much handled things are always soft.”


The body of work comes at a time where the global citizenry is re-entering a world that has been handled extremely harshly by the global pandemic. If before the pandemic we were moving at breakneck speed towards who knows what, now, some of us, are choosing to tread slowly and softly in the construction of a more considered way forward.


Lewis’ work offers a few key opportunities for exploring the softness of things and people that have often been unfairly and perhaps non-consensually handled. In her works, we easily identify a prioritized Black female body that is lush and in service to herself.


These women are unbound, in varying states of repose, with skin like velvet, and draped in bright and free flowing clothing. Their faces are inconsistently the focal point of the paintings, and when they are, the profile is very intentionally a side view so as to obscure our ability to investigate. The silhouettes are gentle and the lines fluid. The suggestion is that the business of being soft is a private, interior affair — the hard-earned spoils won as a result of excessive handling.


Lewis offers diverse possibilities: bursts of rich hue, textures folding in and around one another, body parts allowed to fall where they may. The options are endless, and softness becomes not simply an antidote or a solution for having been handled, but rather a lifestyle that may, in fact, have always been the goal, had someone else’s need for handling not interrupted.


It is worth considering each of Lewis’ works as worlds that in her words, “bleed into each other.” There is a porosity that allows us to migrate together towards each other through time and space. Her use of doors, windows, and mirrors serve as actual portals through which we can enter and exit while simultaneously creating a discourse around these shared experiences.


Also, any discourse about Lewis’ work would be remiss if it didn’t observe the visual haptic created by the folds of lush purple and raisin colored fabrics that allows us to even imagine softness and delicacy in the first place. Though working in two dimensions, Lewis’ figures achieve a three-dimensional embodiment that gives the impression of movement grandiose enough to exit the canvas and enter the physical world with sure steps.


The face features less prominently in these works and recalls understanding of the body as a site of consciousness if not a standalone oracle. Where the mind has previously allowed harsh handling, the body often pays the price. But when the body has finally decided to free itself from its much handled past, the mind must eventually follow.


Excerpt from an essay by Negarra A. Kudumu entitled, Up. Around. Through.