Mary Evans (b. 1963, Lagos, Nigeria) lives and works in London.
In Evans’ work she creates silhouettes and pictograms hand cut from brown craft paper, to produce site-based, spatially dynamic installations. Pattern is a strong leitmotif in her practice. With an interest in delving beyond the purely ornamental, Evans infuses historical, geographical, or architectural clues into her work.
Evans’ research interests are centered on the social and political frameworks of diaspora, migration, global mobility, and exchange. She investigates how the history of modern Britain is, in many respects, the legacy of its imperial past. Her work highlights the circuitous route via which people arrive and settle somewhere through emigration and diaspora – willingly or by force – what affects people on those journeys, what they are forced to learn and relearn, what they choose to remember and forget, and how they are irrevocably changed. Her flat, decorative patterning emphasizes the reductive nature of racial stereotyping – this reduction is rendered even more disturbing through the use of both ‘innocent’ and ‘loaded’ material.
‘Thousands Are Sailing’ is a song released by the London-based Celtic band the Pogues in 1988. The lyrics and plaintive manner in which it is sung, in the style of an Irish folk ballad, tell stories of Irish emigration to the United States: The island it is silent now but the ghosts still haunt the waves And the torch lights up a famished man Who fortune could not save …
Evans explains: ‘Perhaps because of my early friendships with Irish people this music spoke to me deeply with the images it conjured up of migration, loss, belonging, alienation, and desire – all emotions I felt an affinity with due to my own diasporic experience.’ Thousands Are Sailing (2016), for EVA International, is a large wall installation depicting figurative narratives in the style of history paintings. The disposable craft paper is a metaphor for the disposable lives of those depicted in the work.