Community Organic Practice Spirituality

Moki Cherry

The ICA are holding a wonderful exhibition of the work of Moki Cherry which closes on Sunday 3rd September 2023. This has been co-curated by her granddaughter Naima Karlsson. The exhibition especially benefits from being seen in the flesh. I went along with my old pal Sacha.

The mood of these works is playfully organic. Although Moki was a skilled pattern cutter, free reign is given to her enchanting child-like style. In that sense the work is of a kin with her husband the musician Don Cherry’s own naturally unfettered improvisation, itself rarely abrasive or ugly, often straying back and forth between comforting jazz tropes and extemporised flights into freedom. I swear I hear a lot of Vince Guaraldi (via the Snoopy soundtracks) in Don’s piano work.


I couldn’t resist posing under this tapestry which was used on the actually not-so-great “Hear & Now” LP. Funnily enough this LP also cropped up in the relatively recent Tantra exhibition at the British Museum.

Hear & Now LP cover.
Relativity Suite.

Moki’s beautiful tapestries were, for a number of years, fixtures on Don’s albums covers. We wondered, rather sadly, what happened to the relationship between Don and Moki in the end.

If you have time please watch this vintage documentary to get the feeling of their life together in Sweden. I used a small excerpt from it, of the team all reciting the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra, in one of my Retreat videos.

An exquisite drawing. There’s much evidence of both their fascination with Indian music. He wasn’t one of the main disciples, but Don was a student of Pandit Pran Nath’s at one point. Moki herself played Tambura pictured here.

Again with the Tibetan Buddhism. Tara, or Green Tara, is alongside Chenrezig the key Tibetan deity. Tibetan men identify with Chenrezig, the women with Tara.

Moki is a perfect figure for today’s revision of female artists. Equality here means just that; equality between different races, genders, even generations.

Some of Moki’s videos were playing on a loop. Here’s a fleeting shot of her Chenrezig tapestry.

Later the same evening that I visited there was a concert by the improvisor and percussionist Kahil El’Zabar. El’Zabar’s background was with the Chicago organisation AACM. The hall was decked with Moki’s tapestries.

Neneh Cherry stage left.
The awning.

This was an excellent concert. Kahil El’Zabar conducted the “orchestra” – by sonic queues and gestures, guiding what was more a free-ranging groove than the skronk traditionally associated with improvisation. In some sections it reminded me of CAN at their quietest and most rapturous. It was a thrill to see Neneh Cherry providing background vocals, the whole exhibition and concert somehow having a family feel. It was as though the whole diverse audience were being welcomed into their Cherry family. Thank you, Naima. Thank you, Moki.