Part installation and part archive display, the objects of House of Le Bas relate to the shared life and experiences of artists Delaine Le Bas (b.1965, UK) and her late husband Damian Le Bas (1963 – 2017, UK). Their work addresses nationhood, land, belonging and gender across diverse media including embroidery, painting, decoupage, sculpture, installations and performances: reflecting domestic claustrophobia and the transient nature of modern materiality.
A centrepiece of these diverse materials, Delaine Le Bas’ painting Meet Your Neighbours – (Engrained) Woven Into The Fabric Of Our Society (2005) portrays both artists alongside stitched and collaged items of personal significance. The painting incorporates texts and headlines which relate to experiences of hostile policies and attitudes towards Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the UK.
More broadly, Delaine’s body of work shares stories that resist modern stereotypes and question what it means to be marked and mistreated as an ‘outsider’ – frequently referencing the injustices of Medusa, who she describes as ‘misunderstood’. To accompany The House of Le Bas, Delaine Le Bas has selected tracks inspired by the display and her practice, which you can access on Spotify here.
“We are stolen artefacts, physically, mentally, artistically. Even today we are still seen and contextualised by everyone else but ourselves… Artistically I continue to question this” – Delaine Le Bas
Delaine Le Bas’ cross-disciplinary work converges into a large, integral whole that spreads across the gallery space. She weaves and creates a particular universe which are images of her life, those of her family, and of the community. Despite the political undertone almost omnipresent in her worlds, the sense of intimacy, sometimes to the extent of exposing an internal self that is occasionally even painful to witness, turns her oeuvre humane and fragile.
Born in Worthing, West Sussex – where she still lives and works, Delaine studied for her MA at St Martins School of Art in London. Her works have been exhibited internationally and include ‘Paradise Lost’, the first Roma Pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 2007, as well as ‘Witch Hunt’ for the Gwangju Biennale South Korea 2012 and the Athens Biennale 2018. The same year, she had a solo exhibition, ‘Untouchable Gypsy Witch’ at Transmission in Glasgow, and co-curated ‘Come Out Now!’ the first Roma Biennale – an idea initiated by her late husband Damian Le Bas.
Damian Le Bas died unexpectedly on 9th December 2017. A prolific artist, Damian was also an indefatigable activist whose artistic career was closely knit with his drive to create the pan-European Gypsyland; the undertaking that Delaine has shared with a larger artistic Romani community across Europe.
The exhibition ultimately touches on the universal themes of love and loss. Exposing facets of her relationship with her late husband using fragments from the diaries she has kept since his death, along with older texts, she incorporates elements that span their careers and life together. It is indeed, a deeply personal account, a record of her endeavour to integrate and come to terms with, the pain that comes with living and leaving – but equally, it is also a promise that something does endure beyond life.
“Love is strange, you think you know what it is, you taste it when it first captures you, then the thought of not having it torments you, the fear of its loss you only truly know once and for all when it is snatched away from you forever. With grief as a partner, a new relationship develops between you and the one that you love(d). Over the past year I have had to develop a new relationship with Damian – one that transcends time and the boundaries of what common sense would describe as normality.”
“I am wrapped in decades of artwork, memories, experiences, and now I alone have to unravel in the artworks and memories, to construct a new world and universe of images and cyphers that convey my experience of life, love and loss; without glamourising over the difficulties that a relationship based on passion and artistic creativity entails. Life throws punches at you consistently, this is the hardest one that I could not avoid – and have had to face the full force of it. I now feel like I live in a parallel universe that is connected to this one but in which I float above it at the same time. In this installation I am trying in the only way I know how – through my art and Damian’s – to give a small glimpse into our world, and to articulate what we had, and continue to have, because our relationship has not ended in so many ways.”
“He was often tortured by so many demons, that I thought I would never be able to save him from them, but now he is a beautiful ghost and free, and he gave me so much that this installation is a thank you to him – for always supporting me, encouraging me to truly be me. That love is a key to so much, which has also created a place in this world where I am surrounded by so many beautiful human beings. Love is so hard to quantify in a world where hate seems to dominate the discourse of so much. I have lost my artistic partner in crime, where we used our art materials as weapons; but our work continues. And I would like to thank my dearest Candice and Damian James for the title in Romani.”
Gender and Romani descent define Delaine Le Bas’s distinctive practice. Both alone and with Damian, she has been creating DIY costumes – posing as a female shaman-like character or a Roma Pasionaria – alongside expressive, large-scale gestures in immersive environments, fabricating or appropriating dolls, rags, flags, and graffiti symbols like crosses and hearts – elements of a syncretic universe that is explosive and ever-expanding.
Her Romani Embassy and her Gypsy Couture mock the cultural, political, social, and economic establishments that Romani historically disassociate from. She is the personification of the wandering Roma, the trickster of the settled and the petite bourgeoisie, the nemesis of our comfort and trivial aesthetics. Delaine Le Bas in her Gypsy Couture acts like a contemporary Fury, an anti-Vivienne Westwood, a true counterculture icon; unclassified and elusive, haunting the European conscience.