Beheydt, Tamara. “STROOMOPWAARTS: No perfect paradise.” OKV: Openbaar Kunstbezit Vlaanderen/Public Art Property Flanders,

English (EN):

"UPSTREAM: No perfect paradise"

In the STREAMOPWAARTS section, Tamara Beheydt explores Belgian contemporary art. Her eye falls on artists who, while climbing to the top, dare to go against the current: with surprising subjects, with innovative techniques or with pertinent questions. This month: Tramaine de Senna in M HKA.

The time has finally come: the first museum visit since the COVID-19 lockdown measures came into effect. Armed with a face mask and disinfectant hand gel, I go to the M HKA in Antwerp, where the exhibition is - fortunately! – were extended until the end of August. The biggest surprise was the presentation of Tramaine de Senna, a young American artist who now lives in Antwerp.

Under the name 'In Situ', M HKA makes room for medium-sized solo exhibitions of young to established artists. The main intention is to show new work. Tramaine de Senna (1981) was born in San Francisco. She studied art and architecture at Berkeley in California. In 2013 she obtained an artistic master's degree in Breda and in 2015 she was laureate at the HISK in Ghent.

The exhibition is bursting with colours, prints and glitter fabrics. The Senna is inspired by the aesthetics of the eighties and does not shy away from a bit of kitsch. The title MASTERBLASTER also evokes a kitschy eighties atmosphere. She works with an enormous variety of materials, from ceramics to cardboard and from chairs to fabrics. In all her ventures, collage seems to be the approach: layers always play a role.

The artist clearly does not stick to one medium, but her work shows a lot of love for materials. Actually, I want to touch all the works in the exhibition. The hanging fly fish, which float soft and shiny above my head, or the leg of Godzilla, which despite its ceramic design also has a kind of comical plumpness.

That leg is exemplary of De Senna's thought process. De Senna herself describes one of the most important aspects in her oeuvre as the 'migration of forms'. Just like its performance, the meaning of a work is also layered. As part of her work process, she actually investigates how certain figures or stories, such as Godzilla, follow a meaningful path in a cultural experience.

Godzilla is a mythical figure who has become a Hollywood blockbuster and a presence in popular culture. But the beast is not isolated from political connotations: its (or her) creation is a result of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. That ceramic leg is also not innocent, despite the candy colors and light shine.


The Senna itself comes from the 'wild west' and discovered the remarkable personality of Bobbejaan Schoepen (1925-2010) in Belgium. She says she admires his business sense and the unique identity he created for himself. “I find people who live in such an exuberant way inspiring and uplifting.”

Bobbejaan's car, a Pontiac, is depicted in the largest work in the exhibition: a textile assemblage more than five meters long. In addition to the car, other 'Wild West motifs', such as pistols and horses, also decorate the work. It is an ode to Bobbejaan and the imagination with which he shaped his identity, but it can also pose an interesting question: if he is stripped of all these symbols and attributes, what does his person look like? Or: who is the Bobbejaan we never saw, what obstacles did he overcome behind the scenes?


Despite their colorful, friendly shapes, de Senna's images seem to be a kind of resistance to the assumption that everything shown must be beautiful. She mainly plays with the aesthetic concept of beautiful and ugly. Godzilla is usually depicted as an ugly monster, but the leg she sculpts from him here has an elegant pastel color. The colors fit together so beautifully, finished with some 'glam', that it almost becomes a bit repulsive. The artist derives her color palettes and patterns from many observations of pop culture, especially television programs for children. They are colorful and joyful – but sometimes they also hurt your eyes a bit.

De Senna's world is not one of conflict. She approaches materials, colors and subjects with a friendly openness and that is also what her works radiate. In a non-aggressive manner they ask questions about beauty, aesthetics, appropriation, mixing and reuse of cultural motifs, colors or figures. The debatable beauty of her complementary materials and colors is a problem here and there. 'There's no such thing as a perfect paradise,” to borrow a favorite quote from Golden Earring frontman Barry Hay.

De Senna translates patterns, color palettes and figures from popular culture, without judging them, but rather as a sign of the mixing of shapes and motifs. Everything comes from somewhere and everything migrates to something else: objects, characters and symbols have their own 'circle of life'. De Senna's works are not so much representations of a culture, as of the metamorphosis that cultural elements can undergo.


Tramaine de Senna. MASTERBLASTER runs until August 23 at the M HKA (In Situ), Leuvenstraat 32, Antwerp.

In July, a new sculpture by Tramaine de Senna will be inaugurated in the City Park in Antwerp, a committee of the city of Antwerp in the context of Art in the City.

Tamara Beheydt

Tamara Beheydt is an art historian and freelance art writer. She is part of the core editorial staff of H ART Magazine, and also publishes frequent contributions in other written media, such as Openbaar Kunstbeheer Vlaanderen and De Tijd. She also writes exhibition texts and portfolio texts for artists and regularly acts as a public speaker at panel discussions, lectures or artist talks. Based on an interest and belief in the value of contemporary art for people and society, she is committed to providing a platform for artistic discourse and maintaining a critical overview of what is happening in the cultural field. Photo © Charlotte Van Noten

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