A few days after the summer solstice of 2023, eleven visual artists from East to West Africa presented a
new body of work at Mitochondria Gallery, in Houston, Texas. The show’s title “When the Sun Stands Still” is an ode to the longest day of year, it is also a euphemism for the memories and moments captured in the works displayed. Kenyan artist Nedia Were presented a diptych painting titled “Vijana Mapacha,” which translates to twins from Swahili. The subjects in these works are positioned front and center, in opposing postures. Nedia captures their poised expression with his paint brush and oil paint. The muses are surrounded by the dark night sky and vegetation, that is an ode to the Kenyan countryside where Nedia was raised.
These two paintings are part of Nedia’s celebrated “Mumwamu” series which translates to “Black.” This body of work challenges the negative perceptions placed on Back people by the global media, by creating positive and uplifting images of Blackness. The Mumwamu series has catapulted Nedia into the international art scene, where he was named the second most followed emerging artist on Artsy for 2022. Nedia has been thankful for the recognition his work is getting from collectors, museums, and art critics. He is an experimentalist at heart, and he performs literature reviews on archival material from which he idealizes concepts that continue his dialogue of positive representation of Blackness as his artistic vernacular evolves. The paintings “Vijana Mapacha I & II” are the twilight of the “Mumwamu” series, as Nedia is working on a new chapter that will continue his message.
Representing Cameroon are Roberto Pare and Kingsly Tamfou who reside in Foumban and Douala respectively. For Roberto Pare, painting is an outlet to understanding human behavior and condition, his mission is to share moments of joy with the world. His surreal figurative paintings are vibrant and bold in color, where he employs historical African sculptures and a cubistic pattern as part of his signature artistic dialect. These elements can be seen in the paintings titled “The Origin” and “Mimesis.” In this body of work, Roberto employs loin cloth and traditional African sculptures to depict part of the realities and heritage of Africa’s culture. Loin cloth carries significance beyond covering and protecting the body, they are used in social, religious, and political settings as markers of status. Roberto finds himself drawn to the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture, however he wants to bring more attention to their functionality, and importance to society.
The sculptures depicted in “The Origin” and “Mimesis” are symbols of fertility and maternity. In the composition of the two works presented, Roberto employs an evasive gaze on his subjects, juxtaposed with transcending views through the windows to depict a surrealist perspective into part of Africa’s material, social, and spiritual culture. Kingsly Tamfou presents a body of work that is inspired by his journey to find inner peace. His introspective pursuits lead him to playful compositions of color and arrangements of his subjects, where he captures their sense of style in environments that foster thoughtfulness.
Adaeze Adinnu’s paintings reflect her artistic journey as a young black girl who believes in herself and is meandering through the doubts and creative blocks that may arise. Adaeze currently resides in Northampton, United Kingdom. Her upbringing in Nigeria infused with her current environment informs the compositions seen in her work, such as the two paintings “Blind Faith” and “Rainbow of Possibilities” presented in the current exhibition.
Odeyemi Oluwaseun and Daniel Adenitan are both based in Lagos, Nigeria. They present works that document the youth in their environment infused with a message of communal support and advocacy for physical and mental therapy.
Odeyemi continues to expand his documentation of young Black men in his environment. Odeyemi has expanded beyond portraiture to figurative paintings that capture the dynamics of clothing adorned by his muse, while capturing their masculinity in a manner that presents them as familiar. This is seen in the works titled Standing Strong I,and Standing Strong II.
In the works titled I am Breathing Fine I and II, Adenitan presents compositions of a female subject partially submerged in a body of water with her face below the water line. The diptych captures a shift in time from night till day, symbolic of the transient process of healing after a traumatic experience. Izere Antoine, Dusabe King, Manzi Leon and Ismael Kwizera are residents of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. Dusabe King’s work explores memories, and the feelings associated with Nostalgia. His creative process involves going through archives of old photographs from his nuclear and extended family. The abstraction of faces, landscape, and inanimate objects in his works are his interpretations of short-term and long-term memories, the way we store and interact with our past experiences.
Impasto painter Izere Antoine continues to expand on his exploration of the empowerment of women and documenting the transient change in leadership roles which women occupy in Rwanda and on a global scale. Ugandan painter Kansiime Brian Lister presents an ode to the beginning of the summer where he captures the same muse at a picnic, enjoying a sunny day in a park located in Kampala
These artists continue to explore and contribute to the figurative movement of art from Africa, from their unique perspectives.
Timi Etebu is a writer based in Houston, Texas. His interests are in amplifying the voices of artists from Africa and the African Diaspora.