Cara Nahaul The neighbour, 2024 oil on canvas 59 x 47 1/4 in. (150 x 120 cm.)

Cara Nahaul
The neighbour, 2024
oil on canvas
59 x 47 1/4 in. (150 x 120 cm.)

Cara Nahaul: Tender Island

April 10-May 8, 2024

Alexander Berggruen is pleased to present Cara Nahaul: Tender Island. This exhibition will open Wednesday, April 10, 2024 with a 5-7 pm reception at the gallery (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3, New York, NY).

Cara Nahaul paints landscapes distilled to their essential geometry, weighted with bold, saturated colors. Continuing to paint from memory and reference photographs, Nahaul furthers her explorations of nostalgia, personal history, and physical and psychological travel. Tender Island marks Nahaul’s first exhibition with Alexander Berggruen.

In Tender Island, Nahaul hones her focus on the contradictory pluralisms between her fond childhood memories visiting Mauritius while reflecting on, in her words, “the more unsettling and painful narratives that puncture those childhood memories, to consider how we can broaden our understanding of colonial legacies and the impact it had on generations long after.” These include her discomfort with the island’s reputation as a tropical tourist destination that overlooks the darker parts of its history, and speculation about her great, great grandfather’s experiences as an indentured laborer on Mauritian sugarcane plantations. Subtly implicating the history of the land, a Dantean journey unravels.

Installation view of Cara Nahaul: Tender Island (April 10-May 8, 2024) at Alexander Berggruen, NY.

Nahaul celebrates the flowing flora and fauna of the island with vivid hues that are bled into the canvas. The edges of some of her forms are emphasized with bright reds, blues, and greens akin to Wayne Thiebaud’s treatment of the myriad of colors present in the thresholds of shadows and highlights. After beginning with black and white charcoal sketches, she introduces color sequentially as she paints, generating, in her words, “friction” against what has already been placed on the canvas. She stated: “I never want the color to be comfortable.” This approach imbues her paintings with the intensity of island weather and generational trauma. Her new body of work is emboldened by inspiration from the writer Gaiutra Bahadur’s book Coolie Woman as they both grapple with the traumas embedded in their heritages through weaving speculative fiction with non-fiction.

Tension builds as the artist confronts the houses on sugarcane plantations and the establishment of luxury hotels, painting these buildings straight on. Her painting Beyond the cane places a viewer behind a pink bush, looking over a sugarcane field in front of a white two-story plantation home. Portraying these houses only from a distance within the fields—the same view some indentured laborers would have seen—Nahaul documents the historical remnants.

Wild animals appear in some of the paintings in this show. In her endearingly titled The Neighbour series, she paints a turtle that has crawled out of grasses and is peering around corners of buildings. In other works, a peacock and a rooster also enter the scenes, taking center stage. They stand tall and still, becoming as much a part of the landscape as a tree, the sky, or the ocean. These creatures are woven into the fabric of the land as an essential part of its ecosystem and as witnesses to the local history.

Reminiscent of Lois Dodd or Alex Katz, Nahaul’s simplified forms generate spatial ambiguity as they oscillate between illusionistic depth and the flat surface. She captures a unique sense of place with detachment and distance, similar to the feeling of Hurvin Anderson’s meditative close study paintings. Her ambiguous approach to space mimics the ways the island’s histories are hidden by its natural beauty and commercial development. By sharing only the essentials, Nahaul also resists exploitation.

Installation view of Cara Nahaul: Tender Island (April 10-May 8, 2024) at Alexander Berggruen, NY.

Cara Nahaul
Little dreamer, 2024
oil on canvas
31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (80 x 60 cm.)

The exhibition’s title Tender Island underscores the pluralisms driving the artist’s interest in painting her memories of Mauritius. “Tender” here refers to her affection for the land. Concurrently, “tender” refers to the role of one who cultivates and mines resources from the land. With respect to an awareness that the presence of her ancestors looms large among her landscape paintings of Mauritius, this exhibition includes a single portrait Auladin: it features her great, great grandfather who was an indentured laborer there when he immigrated from India. As his immigration documents stated he was employed as a “gardener,” it is understood that he worked on sugarcane plantations, as most migrant laborers did under British colonial rule.

Central to the exhibition, her painting Sunset foam is an optical illusion—the juxtaposition of a pink tree against a yellow sky tricks the eye into seeing the sky as on fire. Setting a blaze to the notion of an idyllic beach sunset, Nahaul brings the trauma of the island’s past to the fore. In Tender Island, Cara Nahaul induces multistable perception, presenting both the beauty of island life and the depths of the land’s dark history.

Press Release by Kirsten Cave

Cara Nahaul in the studio, London, UK, 2024. Photo: Georgiana Bogdan

Cara Nahaul in the studio, London, UK, 2024. Photo: Georgiana Bogdan

About the Artist

This exhibition follows the artist’s inclusion in the gallery’s group shows The Natural World: Part II (March 9-April 13, 2022) and in the gallery’s booth at the 2023 Dallas Art Fair (April 20-23, 2023).

Cara Nahaul (b. 1987, London, UK) received a BA from Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK and an MFA from Parsons The New School for Design, New York, NY. Her work has been exhibited at Galerie Camille Pouyfaucon, Paris, FR; Taymour Grahne Projects, London, UK; Alexander Berggruen, New York, NY; The Hole, New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK; Sargent’s Daughters, Los Angeles, CA; YiYuan Tang Museum, Shanghai, CN; National Assembly and Seojung Art Center, Seoul, KR; The Stables Gallery Richmond Museum, London, UK; Westminster Reference Library, London, UK; Gate Theatre, London, UK; The New School University Centre, New York, NY; and The Kitchen, New York, NY, among many others. The artist was featured in The Anomie Review of Contemporary British Painting 2 in 2021. She has been selected for the John Moores Painting Prize twice and completed public commissions for Vital Arts and Hospital Rooms. Nahaul currently lives and works in London, UK.

On the occasion of this exhibition, Alexander Berggruen published an exhibition catalogue, featuring a foreword by Kirsten Cave and an interview between the artist and writer, editor, and curator Anneka French.

Cara Nahaul: Tender Island will run at Alexander Berggruen (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3) from April 10-May 8, 2024. The exhibition’s preview is available upon request. For all inquiries, please contact the gallery at info@alexanderberggruen.com.

Cara Nahaul The neighbour, 2024 oil on canvas 59 x 47 1/4 in. (150 x 120 cm.)

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Launched in 2019, Alexander Berggruen has quickly made a name for itself with a robust program that spans 20th-century and contemporary art. With an eye for emerging talent, Alexander Berggruen has mounted significant exhibitions of rising stars of the industry, including Sholto BlissettHulda Guzmán, and Brittney Leeanne Williams. To bring in the spring season, the gallery is staging a group show featuring artists who explore the effects that technology, nature, interpersonal relationships, and material transformations have on mental processes. On view through March 27, the show includes paintings and sculptures by Drew Bennett, Laird Gough, Lyndsey Marko, Alexandria Mento, Dominic Musa, and Ben Walker. Following this thought-provoking presentation is a solo show of landscape paintings by Cara Nahaul entitled Tender Island, which opens April 10 and will be on view until May 8.

Cara Nahaul: Tender Island Catalogue

Cara Nahaul: Tender Island was published on the occasion of the gallery’s eponymous exhibition, which will run from April 10-May 8, 2024. This catalogue features a foreword by Kirsten Cave and an interview between Cara Nahaul and writer, editor, and curator Anneka French, which took place in February 2024.

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