Mary Evans

1963 | Lagos, Nigeria
Mary Evans — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Courtesy Mary Evans, © Photo: Tuane Eggers

— Tiwani Contemporary

British-Nigerian visual artist.

Mary Evans was born in Lagos and has lived in London ever since she moved there with her family in the late 1960s. She was raised in North East London, where she went to school with children from mixed backgrounds, from Irish to African-Caribbean to Indian. She has said, “what brought us together was our immigrant status”. While history lessons from primary to secondary school taught her very little about the relationships between the British Empire and its colonies, her studies at the Rijksakademie (Amsterdam) and Goldsmiths College (London) enabled her later to develop an artistic practice driven by historical research. M. Evans is interested in understanding how modern Britain’s social, cultural and political dynamics are products of its imperial past. Her work echoes her own childhood and life (the experience of losing both a language and a set of mental and physical cultural references) and in doing so becomes a medium through which she evokes the thwarted paths men and women travel before they eventually settle. It tells the story of what happens to these men and women during their journeys and what they are forced to learn or relearn; what they choose to remember or forget; and how their lives are always irreversibly transformed.

These evocations come in a very distinctive form in the work of M. Evans: cutouts of silhouettes and pictograms, most often in plain brown kraft paper, which she then arranges in site-specific installations made to adapt to the public’s perambulations. The piece Thousands Are Sailing (2016), for instance, was presented at Ireland’s EVA International Biennial in 2016: this vast figurative mural installation comprises several episodes that borrow from the historical painting genre, and is made out of kraft paper – a material which also serves as a metaphor for the insignificant and discardable nature of the lives the work depicts.

The imagery M. Evans chooses is replete with signs, symbols, and pictograms taken from popular culture and, as such, seeks to transform simple forms into “metaphorical tools” – the artist has described this process as the creation of a “visual Esperanto”. The motif becomes a leitmotiv – her works almost always stem from a pre-existing architectural structure, each of them possessing a formal logic composed of an imbrication of several series of nesting motifs. However, while pure motif lies at the heart of her artistic exploration, M. Evans espouses an aesthetic that goes beyond the ornamental, or rather which uses the ornamental to reveal the historical, architectural or social foundations of the sources and spaces she works with (for instance, she was commissioned pieces from a hospital and a drug rehabilitation centre). Although she primarily uses paper and cutouts, she has also been known to take an interest in other materials and techniques, insofar as they are linked to forms of craftsmanship and allow for the production of plain imagery. She has also worked with stencils (in the series Mirror Images [2012-2013], a gallery of facing twin profiles in various shades of coloured ink), artisanal printing, collage, and stamping. M. Evans says she enjoys working “at the intersection of fine art and crafts, of art and decoration”, always with a view to improving her storytelling.

Eva Barois De Caevel

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Linked articles
Linked themes
Discover other artists

of Women Artists
& Exhibitions

Facebook - AWARE Twitter - AWARE Instagram - AWARE
Villa Vassilieff - 21, avenue du Maine 75015 Paris (France) — info[at]aware-art[.]org — +33 (0)1 55 26 90 29