Charmaine Watkiss - Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon: Charity Online Auction London Tuesday, March 12, 2024 | Phillips

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  • Charmaine Watkiss is concerned with ‘memory stories’, addressing themes of ritual, tradition, ancestry, mythology and cosmology, Watkiss examines botanical legacies of the Caribbean.  Tracing the lineage of herbal healing traditions to their source in Africa, Watkiss speaks about countering a ‘collective forgetting’. Born in London to Jamaican parents, Watkiss recalls being treated with herbs in childhood but reflects how traditions were often abandoned.

    'My intention was to make works about the Windrush generation, because many of them created home remedies … but then I started to ask where did this knowledge come from, and that is where the real journey began.'
    —Charmaine Watkiss

    A series of ‘Plant Warrior’ women was inspired by a book of botanical medicine, which suggested herbs have spirits and Guardian of the four directions, 2023, presents the Indigo plant warrior. During the transatlantic enslavement period, indigo dye was more valuable than gold. In an earlier time, cloth dyed indigo had a special connection to the sacred – in funerary rites for the Ancient Egyptians and the Tellem people of Mali; and in patterned Adire cloth from Nigeria. 


    The pattern adorning the garment of Watkiss’ plant warrior connects her to the cosmos and represented is a Congo-Angolan belief that the spiritual and material worlds are inherently intertwined. Continuity between the realms is also represented in the trickster figure Èṣù-Ẹlẹ́gbára – the boatman and guardian of the crossroads.


    Installation shot: Liverpool Biennial 2023 at Victoria Gallery & Museum. Courtesy of Liverpool Biennial. Photo: Mark McNully

    Charmaine Watkiss (b. 1964, London,UK) lives and works in London. Notable exhibitions include Liverpool Biennial 2023; Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, Berlin 2023;  Nasher Museum at Duke University, North Carolina, 2023; Drawing attention: emerging artists in dialogue, a touring British Museum exhibition, 2023–2024; The Wisdom Tree (solo), Leeds Art Gallery, 2022 and Breakfast Under the Tree, curated by Russel Tovey, Carl Freedman Gallery, Margate 2021. Her work is held in private and public collections including: British Museum, London; Government Art Collection; Cartwright Hall Museum, Bradford; Abbott Hall Museum, Kendall and Nasher Museum at Duke University, North Carolina.

    • Provenance

      Donated by the artist


Guardian of The Four Directions

signed and dated 'Watkiss 2023' lower right
watercolor, water-soluble graphite, ink, coffee and shell gold on paper
40.5 x 30.5 cm (15 7/8 x 12 in.)
Executed in 2023.

Full Cataloguing

£3,000 - 5,000 


Contact Specialist

Olivia Taylor
Head of Sale
+44 7823 791 633

Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon: Charity Online Auction

12 - 19 March 2024