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Kelly Sinnapah Mary - Artists - James Cohan

Kelly Sinnapah Mary creates paintings, sculptures, and installations that draw upon the complex interrelationships between folklore, literature, inheritance, history, and the natural world. Sinnapah Mary’s work is rooted both materially and narratively in the artist’s immediate environment of the Caribbean archipelago of Guadeloupe, a French overseas department, and her own evolving understanding of her ancestral origins. As a child, the artist identified as Afro-Caribbean but later discovered that she is a descendant of indentured workers from the South Indian state Tamil Nadu, who were brought to the Caribbean following the abolition of slavery to replace enslaved labor. 


Sinnapah Mary’s practice takes the form of an ongoing visual notebook in which the artist explores a rich repository of diasporic memories, mythologies, and superstitions, the synthesis of which challenges the ideological constructs of colonialism and its continued reverberations throughout today’s world. The central character who appears throughout the artist’s work is the schoolgirl Sanbras, an inventive subversion of the titular character in the late 19th-century children’s book The Story of Little Black Sambo. Part woman and part child–and occasionally part animal–Sanbras’s Black skin is tattooed with verdant plant life that curls like vines alongside symbols and stories drawn from fables, children’s literature, religious texts, and the artist’s own daily life. She often seems to simultaneously emerge from and be absorbed by the lush landscapes teaming with flora and fauna–both native and invasive to Guadeloupe–that surround her. 


Sinnapah Mary is keenly attuned to the ways in which the European colonial project sought to radically recontextualize the relationship between humans, animals, and the natural world in order to establish a racialized anthropocentrism rooted in ideals of white European superiority. The artist instead posits bonds of kinship and care between the human and animal worlds, bringing them together and blurring the spaces between them in her compositions. Drawing upon the work of Caribbean intellectuals such as Aimé Césaire and Maryse Condé, Sinnapah Mary interweaves the physical environment that surrounds her home and studio in Guadeloupe with fantasy, science fiction, and archetype to speak to contested histories and the lived experience of diaspora. 


Kelly Sinnapah Mary (b. 1981, Guadeloupe) holds a degree in visual art from Toulouse University. Her work has been shown both in Guadeloupe and internationally at institutions including Aicon Gallery, New York, NY; Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam, Netherlands; Peréz Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL; IDB Gallery, Washington, DC; Osage Foundation, Hong Kong; Foundation Clément, Le François, Martinique, and the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil. She has been featured in major group exhibitions including Surrealism and Us: Caribbean and African Diasporic Artists since 1940, at the Modern Museum of Fort Worth, TX, in 2024; everything slackens in a wreck, curated by Andil Gosine, at the Ford Foundation Gallery, New York, in 2022, and Very Small Feelings at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, India, in 2023.

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