Timing, as they say, is everything. Too late or too early; either way it’ll be more fight than flow. It’s hard to come out of the Moki Cherry show not pondering the idea of timing. Well, that and playful joy.

Born in Sweden, Cherry was the partner of celebrated jazz musician Don Cherry and as well as playing the role of his muse, she seems to have assumed the role of his creative director. Pre the ICA show we’d only known her as the mother of late 80’s cultural lightning rod, Nenah Cherry. However, it turns out there was a lot more to Moki Cherry than a muse and mother.


Which brings us back to timing. Cherry was most active between the 60’s and 80’s, decades not known for foregrounding women artists. Muse was a possibility, though now that would often be referred to as a collab (it would definitely be a collab in Cherry’s case). She often worked in textiles which were (and to be fair, still often are) seen as a craft – which is essentially othering on the part of the artworld. It’s an ‘other’ that’s difficult to separate from ‘women’s work’. You get the impression she was the wrong person using the wrong medium for much of her life. 

Despite what you may read, progress generally shrugs and gets on with it and, as a result, it feels like Cherry’s time has come. She was acknowledged in her lifetime but, in the art tradition, it’s post-houmously that she seems to have found her time. Craft has been re-evaluated, Gees Bend Quilters have finally seen quilting’s status upgraded. There seems to be more shows on female artists than men right now, and even playfulness doesn’t seem to be a black ball offence in the artworld. 

The ICA show feels like a retrospective of a maker and artist that didn’t care much for the darker side of life. It all seems so joyous, carefree and unstructured. From paintings to collage to quilting to sculpture; it’s an exploration of the human condition that feels more intuitive than analytical. While very obviously rooted in the psychedelic hippie culture of the 60’s and 70’s, her work evolved a structure that those kind of psychonaughts never explored.  

It’s a small but perfectly formed show. Probably more suited to our modern, internet addled brain than an expansive ‘summer blockbuster’ gallery show. If that seems depressing to you, it probably wouldn’t have to Moki Cherry. So be like Moki; and go see sunshine everywhere!


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