Torkwase Dyson’s work reflects on ancestry, dispossession, and environmental liberation. Using water, architecture, composition, and the manipulation of her canvases as material and conceptual motifs, she explores how historical narratives happened, could have happened, and are still happening. The painting Presence, Takes Courage for a Body to Get Down There evokes the Atlantic Ocean, which carried the artist’s rebellious ancestors during the Middle Passage; the Mediterranean Sea, which engulfed refugees during the recent mass migrations from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe; and the world’s sea beds at risk of deep-sea mining today.
To make this work, Dyson continuously moved the canvas from the floor to the wall, letting the paint puddle and drip and creating tension among gravity, liquidity, and surface. The artist describes this process of “construction-movement” as “black compositional thought,” making a space of geometry, improvisation, and intuition in which “I’m building my way to see all the ancestors and the future.”