Sarah Kudirka’s latest paintings based on bowl:boat and shell-like motifs, are rooted in our capacity for empathy, sharing and compassion towards those who journey across oceans.
There are self-evident things in Kudirka’s latest work along with many layers of meaning to explore. We see that a simple drawing of a shallow bowl may resemble a crude boat. And a bowl is a basic piece of design but one that allows us to gather, prepare, eat, store and share our food and water.
Kudirka’s conflation of a bowl and a boat stemmed from sketches made on Scottish beaches of things that float across oceans, including seed pods and shells. The fine brushstroke markings that delineate her shell-like forms, are repeated but unique akin to fingerprints. They bring to mind the age-old human practice of crossing oceans to seek safe lands (and the hope of finding a welcome).
Central is the idea that for ancient people the oceans were a conduit rather than a barrier to the movement of people and cultures, not least in the context of settlers to the remote western isles. The bowl:boat motif in Kudirka’s work has become closely entwined with the need for greater empathy and compassion, sharing our space with others seeking safety and a place to thrive.
As she says “For many of us arriving by boat, whether fleeing to safety or seeking a new life, or being taken, is but a generation or two back. To move across water has long been our wider human story.”
Kudirka’s name was brought here by boat in 1919 when her husband’s grandparents fled Russian occupation of Lithuania. Just ahead of the invasion of Ukraine last February, Sarah drew, from the TV news, a big deep cooking pot that an old woman was holding outside her cottage at the country’s eastern border. It has become for her a potent symbol (of subsistence, of survival) and has inspired painting after painting.
The show features a striking 3.7m-high triptych, Stacked. Kudirka’s biggest work to date, it shows a teetering stack of shallow bowls that seem ready to topple over on you. These rough-outlined bowls contrast how carefully-packed fine china was imported for merchants’ tables with the inhumanely packed-tight, expendable cargo of people transported against their will from Africa across the Atlantic in those same merchants’ ships. Painted directly over an earlier horizontal triptych by the artist depicting period female dress and panelled interiors, Kudirka makes the link to society ladies in comfortable drawing rooms (such as those in mansions on the ‘Tobacco Lords’ hill on which she now lives in Glasgow) who normalised profiting from the abhorrence of chattel slavery in the colonies.
Sarah Kudirka was born in England in 1968 and lived in Kenya for part of her childhood. She trained (BA & MA) in the early ‘90s at the University of Leeds then spent 24 years working and showing in London. This is the first solo exhibition in a Scottish gallery of Sarah Kudirka’s work since moving to Glasgow permanently in 2017. Recent group shows include Finding the Wonder (2022) at Tatha Gallery and Stop.Start (2021) at Southblock Project Space. The artist has had a WASPS studio at The Briggait since Autumn 2020. Her art is held in private collections worldwide and she is a member of VAS and SCAN.