The Whispering Tongues by Marc Standing – Grove Square Galleries, London

Launching on 24 June, The Whispering Tongues is the latest show to be held at Grove Square Galleries in London, presenting a new body of work by Zimbabwean artist Marc Standing.

Born and raised in Harare, and now based in London, the works in this exhibition were created when Standing returned to his native continent earlier this year. After a decade away from Africa, he spent time in Rwanda and Kenya earlier this year, and this homecoming resulted in a transformational experience as reflected in this rich and eye-catching series of mixed media paintings.

Standing is painter whose work straddles abstraction, surrealism, figuration and collage – among many other genres that make his style difficult to pin down. Trained in Fine Arts the University of Cape Town, his work is inspired by his complex emotional and life experiences, with his trajectory as an artist underpinned by his personal search for identity. Organic and anthropological in feel, his work is thematically – and variously – inspired by the natural world, science and biology. The result is a body of work that engages with our humanity, of what we are, and what it means to be alive.

The experience of returning to Africa gave rise to Standing exploring his own identity, culture and heritage, notably as a white African. ‘I began working on this body of work, The Whispering Tongues, in Kenya, in the land of the Masai, amongst warthogs and bougainvillea,’ recalls Standing. ‘It was my out of Africa experience, the return of the diaspora child to the motherland. It was profound, insightful, and inspiring.’

The deep connection with place is apparent in these works, which reflects the qualities, colours and tones of the African landscape.  Standing’s palette sees a shift to the blacks, ochres and earthy tones of savannah plains. His compositions also incorporate natural local materials such as soil, sand, water and charcoal, as well as found objects such as sequins and beads – a nod to the historic communities and traditions that have shaped the countries’ pasts.


Standing’s work begins through a method of spontaneous mark-making and dye washes – a process that mirrors the narrative of self-discovery within the work, which slowly reveals itself through a building of layer, texture and form. It is also during this process that the work grows from a personal to a more collective experience. ‘There was a freedom, spontaneity, and looseness to the paintings,’ says Standing, ‘a gorging of excitable impulses, a harking back to rudimentary mark-making, the marks of our ancestors in the cradle of civilisation.’

His use of often sinister and unfamiliar imagery creates tensions between light and dark; comfort and discomfort; a sense of belonging and a sense of void. These contrasts disturb the viewer’s expectations and encourage a personal response to the paintings.

To Standing, this exhibition represents a very personal tribute to his background: ‘This body of work is a homage to my Africa, my home, as an African. If all the leaves on all the trees had tongues, hear them whisper as they divulge their secrets.’ A celebration of the magic and mythology of Africa – but more importantly, of where one calls home – this show marks a key milestone in Standing’s artistic career.

Marc Standing: The Whispering Tongues

24 June – 6 August 2021

Grove Square Galleries

156 New Cavendish St

London W1W 6YW

@grovesquaregalleriesofficial @marcstanding