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Water Dancers

Calida Rawles‘ work is so meticulous, you could call it photo-realism. At the same time her portrayal of the water itself, with its fluid movement is almost abstract. You see – in Rawles’ own words – “African-American women and men submerged in glistening water; bodies are swarmed by a flurry of bubbles, ripples, and refracted light.” When looking at these paintings I can almost feel the water on my skin, they trigger my body’s memory of its enveloping embrace. The large paintings are from her 2020 show A Dream for My Lilith which refers to the biblical character by the same name. Calida_Rawles_art_water_dancers

Rawles celebrates this feeling and uses swimming herself for its healing, therapeutic qualities. “That’s what I love about water as a subject,” she states.“It’s duplicitous. It’s a very dangerous element. It does a lot of damage, and you can die in it.” To survive in water, she points out, you have to relax. If you struggle, you sink. “You take the waves as they come. I think of that as just a state of being. There’s a beauty and a balance in accepting that life has negative and positive elements—in accepting change.”Calida_Rawles_art_water_dancers

However, on her website she recognizes “its historical connotations to racial exclusion and cultural fears. She uses the complicated duality of water as a platform to address identity politics while reimagining her subjects beyond cultural tropes. At times, her work alludes to current events, even making topographical maps of cities where acts of racially targeted violence have occurred. In other moments, her works are purely celebratory of the resilience, strength, and beauty of African American culture.”

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All images © Calida Rawles
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