Art on the Underground Commissions Aliza Nisenbaum for Brixton Underground Station, April 2019

Art on the Underground will present a large-scale public commission by Mexican-born and New York-based artist Aliza Nisenbaum at Brixton Underground station, launching on 10 April 2019 and on view until 16 September 2019. The work is the first public UK commission by Nisenbaum who will use the Brixton murals from the 1980s as inspiration.

As we approach the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union, a defining moment for the UK against a backdrop of worldwide geopolitical change, this new commission forms part of Art on the Underground’s 2019 programme which looks at the role artists can play in drawing out ideas of future utopias of togetherness and belonging. With over 30 million journeys made through Brixton station each year the commission will be seen by a diverse audience.

Influenced by the Mexican mural movement and its depiction of social history, Nisenbaum’s work probes the politics of representation by bringing together often-marginalized or overlooked groups of people to the fore in exquisitely painted portraits. She will continue this practice for her new commission where she is artist-in-residence, living and working in Brixton from 15 December 2018 until 27 February 2019.

Through an open call, Nisenbaum has selected 15 people working on the Transport for London network from Brixton station and the Victoria line – including train drivers, customer service staff and cleaners – who, over several hours, will be individually painted in her studio to create a large-scale group portrait specifically for the entrance of Brixton Underground station.

Through her artistic process, Nisenbaum seeks to transform the traditional artist-sitter relationship by creating works which challenge the hierarchies of portraiture. For her, he process of painting portraits from live sittings is a reciprocal act, one that sets up an ethical encounter in which both participants give the process of painting portraits their attention and trust, and learn about one another. These long sessions allow Nisenbaum to deeply engage with the people she paints to explore the experiences of exchange and engagement that occurs through the slow process of painting, allowing for a new means of human connection.

Nisenbaum is the second commission in a new series at Brixton, following ‘Remain, Thriving’, 2018, a new site specific work from Njideka Akunyili Crosby. The programme selects artists to respond to the diverse narratives of the murals from the 1980s, the rapid development of the area and the wider social and political history of mural making.

2019 is an uncertain time for the United Kingdom as it begins its withdrawal from the European Union. Reflecting on the emotional weight of longing and belonging to the city as it crosses this edge in 2019, Art on the Underground’s programme will present a wide-range of commissions across London from leading international artists including Laure Prouvost across all 270 London Underground stations; Denzil Forrester at Brixton station; Larry Achiampong at Westminster station; Nina Wakeford who will present her two-year research project of the new Northern Line Extension; and a Pocket Tube map cover designed by Bedwyr Williams.

IMAGE: Aliza Nisenbaum, Study for La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, 2016, Gouache on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Mary Mary, Glasgow.