Gallery: Nicole Awai: Almost Undone

by Laura Hankin

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Written by Laura Hankin for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by
Courtesy of the Vilcek Foundation

5 out of 5 stars


NEW YORK, NY (September 17, 2011) Nicole Awai, an innovative Trinidadian artist, and the Vilcek Foundation, which aims to honor the artistic contributions of those born outside the US, have partnered to present Awai’s newest work, Almost Undone. The mixed-media installation, on display until October 29th in a renovated carriage house on the Upper East Side, is enigmatic upon first glance, even as it seizes the eye and refuses to ease its grip. It is well worth a closer look.

In this installation, Awai plays heavily with dimensionality. Some pieces conform to a traditional format and hang on the wall, others are in the process of escaping, and a few have completely wrested away and settled on the floor. One piece literally shows the paper pulling itself off the wall, the stabilized pulp of the sculpture looking, from far away, like waving canvas. This evolution makes the installation feel alive, as though it’s constantly changing when no one is looking.

Mix-media artist Nicole Awai‘s “Almost Undone” at the Vilcek Foundation Gallery
Nicole Awai‘s art work from “Almost Undone” at the Vilcek Foundation Gallery

Awai also uses the idea of doubles repeatedly. Two women with the same face (the face of the artist) pop up in multiple pieces. These twins are perhaps nestled close together, or conjoined, or not even two separate entities at all, but one being with two torsos and heads. These bodies are trapped, and never get to escape from the wall like most of Awai’s work.

The image of ooze appears over and over again, dripping off of drawings on the walls, trapping the twins, or spread out on the floor. The traditional association of repulsion with muck lessens as the viewer is exposed to it more and more, and it becomes possible to find fascination in it, especially in freestanding pieces that resemble black lakes with various found objects arranged in the mire.

Close-up of Nicole Awai‘s work at “Almost Undone” at the Vilcek Foundation Gallery

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the exhibit is Awai’s use of nail polish. In addition to using it as a paint substitute for material, she creates legends on the sides of some of her pieces, akin to paint strips but displaying various nail polish colors. The titles of these polishes, like The White Stuff, Magnetic Force, or In the Navy are creative and, in some cases, near-poetic labels. Before I realized they were nail polish colors, I found myself wondering what they could represent. Her use of these beauty aids elevates them, sparking questions about why their artistic qualities can’t be taken seriously because of their everyday uses.

Almost Undone requires some effort to appreciate, but the effort ultimately makes for a rewarding experience.

For more information about Nicole Awai, visit:
For more information about Vilcek Foundation, visit:

Mix-media artist Nicole Awai

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