The London-based artist Alvaro Barrington has the uncanny ability to turn a conversation into a pilgrimage. I catch up with him in New York for the opening of his new solo exhibition, Garvey I: Birth — The Quiet Storm, at the Nicola Vassell Gallery in Chelsea. Whenever I ask him about how he came to the idea of referencing Marcus Garvey — this is the first chapter of a four-part reflection on the life and work of the Jamaican activist, proponent of black separatism and father of Pan-Africanism, who died in 1940 — he starts by telling me something that doesn’t immediately seem to answer my question.
But soon enough I see that he’s taking me on a journey, making illuminating connections between art history, ideology, Afro-Caribbean cultural traditions and his own experiences — all to give a richer reply.
In the gallery, walls painted grass green and dark cocoa offset the yellow, green, brown and orange palette of the works. Garvey I first showed at the Sadie Coles gallery in London in 2019. Barrington tells me that he wanted to organise the show as a kind of story about a couple meeting, falling in love and then deciding to migrate. It’s a nod to his parents but also to countless others who leave their country for another place.