Photography: Gareth Jones

Aliza Nisenbaum

Tate Liverpool

Sonder: the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complicated as your own. A life unbeknown to you with its own challenges, friends, enemies and routines; a patchwork story that continues on past your wandering glances, leaving you to only imagine what varying kinds of material it is made up of. Lucky enough for us, New York-based artist Aliza Nisenbaum centralises her work around those not-so-familiar passersby, learning the material that makes up who they are and stitching together their patchwork stories.

A collection of some of Nisenbaum’s vibrant and eccentric work is currently displayed at Tate Liverpool, showcasing a variety of ordinary people taking centre stage through mass canvases. The exhibition incorporates both oil and watercolour paintings as well as three insightful pieces of videography to offer further context. Amongst some of Nisenbaum’s previous paintings depicting community groups across the world, the heart of the exhibition is undoubtedly the two newly commissioned group portraits and 11 individual watercolour paintings that revolve around a collection of Merseyside’s NHS workers.

The two large group portraits capture one of the teams from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital Emergency Department during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, presenting a range of figures from a senior paediatric nurse to one of the hospital porters. The majority of the workers within the paintings are accompanied by drawings which they were asked to create by Nisenbaum in response to their workplace experiences during the Covid-19 outbreak. This interactive element of the work encourages an increased level of depth to the canvases and allows the viewer to feel warmly connected to the strangers Nisenbaum portrays. Nearby, an accompanying video allows us to meet the workers and hear their voices as they read out a significant chapter from their stories.

Despite the emotional turmoil and hardship that the selected NHS workers in Merseyside recall over the last year, Nisenbaum’s paintings reflect the colourful, bright and fun personalities that she takes the time to learn while painting, producing Mexican mural-style works of art that are inherently fun to look at. She unapologetically uses loud and energising colours that work harmoniously together, while integrating the most child-like shapes and patterns to amuse the eyes. These erratic dots to messy and disordered squiggles juxtapose her sophisticated and realistic representations of the figures, particularly in the seamless creases of the clothing. One singular focal point is not presented in either group painting, which stimulates the reader to scan the entire canvas and put energy into analysing each individual more closely.

Whether the style of the paintings is favourable to every viewer or not, Aliza Nisenbaum has successfully extended the four white walls of Tate Liverpool to the everyday corners of our city that deserve the most exposure, with or without a pandemic. This beautiful exhibition grants the public the perfect opportunity to feed those wandering feelings of sonder, while practicing a healthy amount of gratitude for society’s most thankless.

 

Bryony took part in Bido Lito!’s Bylines writers programme, developing young culture writers of the future. Bylines runs throughout the year for more information and to find out about the next intake go to bidolito.co.uk/workshops

 

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