South Africa

Exploring Vulnerability and Memory in Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s ‘A Making of Ghosts’: An Artforum Review

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Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993 and living in the UK, presents her personal vision of Southern African life in her artwork. The “A Making of Ghosts” exhibition at Victoria Miro’s London space showcases Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s intimate portraits and photographs. Her experiences of geographical dislocation and displacement are reflected in her paintings that combine visual fragments from various sources like online images and personal photographs. This collapsing of past and present is the result of her deep exploration of the subject matter. From ages nine to seventeen, she lived in South Africa.

Hwami uses family and archival imagery to explore memory and contemporary social realities. Her works urge us to consider ourselves in a world saturated with digital images. The artist captures raw emotional states and imbues them with vulnerability in her paintings. She captures her subjects in a moment of sleep, a quiet laugh, or self-reflection. She overlays their canvases on top of large-scale photographs as if they were huge collages.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s “A Making of Ghosts” exhibition is a play on scale and perspective, merging emotional states. In Murikishi, the sleeping man image overlays another’s naked body, painted in a choppy, digital texture. Hwami’s work invades privacy by layering images on a monochrome photograph of a man’s head.

Murikishi (all works 2023) -Kudzanai-Violet Hwami UV print, oil, and acrylic on canvas 177 x 156 cm. Image courtesy of Victoria Miro

Hwami’s oil paintings raise questions about representation, sexuality, gender, diaspora, and identity, representing the Black body. Her earlier contemporary artworks lean towards satire, but her work has progressively shifted away from overtly political themes. Her artwork includes bold nudes, self-portraits, and images of relatives. These large-scale paintings are brightly colored and mix elements of figuration and abstraction.

Hwami’s paintings feature fictive scenes in the sense that they do not come from one original subject. The artist begins a painting by creating a collage from a myriad of visual sources of personal significance. Sources for these collages include Hwami’s family photographs and found imagery from online and archival collections. Hwami uses family portraits to present a personal vision of southern Africa. For instance, her painting

‘Let Us Now Praise the Children (2017), explores the complexities that come with being a parent. The formative years in a child’s life are the most crucial in its lifetime. Exalting children during this age provides a good foundation for positive traits.

Woman and Child, 2017, oil on canvas 180 × 120-Kudzanai-Violet Hwamio. Image courtesy of Instagram.

The exhibition’s title, “A Making of Ghosts,” is a reference to the artist’s practice of using archival images to reconstruct and revive the past, to conjure the “ghosts” of history. Infused with energy and a vibrant color palette, the exhibition invites the audience to experience the tension between memory and the present, the self and the other, the past and the future. A Making of Ghosts” showcases Hwami’s personal vision of Southern African and diasporic life derived from collages of found and family images. Her works invite viewers to consider themselves in a world saturated with digital images and to experience the tension between memory and the present, the self and the other, the past and the future.


Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art News Africa.

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