Curated by Azu Nwagbogu, Director of the African Artists’ Foundation, Amsterdam’s Galerie Ron Mandos presents (Re)Pose, an exhibition exploring the figurative paintings of South African artist WonderBuhle and Nigerian artist Eniwaye Oluwaseyi, running from 6 March–3 April 2021. Both painters unpack familial histories through portraiture, protesting forms of oppression and the misrepresentation of Black bodies throughout contemporary histories. The exhibition’s curator, Azu Nwagbogu tells Something Curated: “Re(Pose) really begins with a radical act of refusal. In the Netherlands, the treatment of issues of racial justice and the presentation of Black people in culture and society is somewhat behind the curve. Many still recently consider Blackface to be just some harmless fun, and cannot understand or relate to issues around social justice.”
Nwagbogu continues: “Everything bad is always happening elsewhere, in America, in Canada, in South Africa but not in the liberal Netherlands. For this reason I wanted to offer those who want to see Black portraiture and are somewhat missing the usual caricature of Blackness an updated version through (Re)Pose. (Re)Pose is a counter-narrative to that which objectifies Black bodies. The subjects are posed in such a sated and natural pose that they own their space and successfully return their gaze to the viewer. It is an act of refusal that says, we will not be denied nor diminished. The system that renders us invisible must see and hear us now.”
(Re)Pose examines portraits that repudiate prejudicial archetypes of Black people portrayed as labourers, slaves, criminals, workers, athletes, martyrs and heroes. The show’s title itself is defined variously as a form of rest or being in a state of calm, yet it could also mean to be situated in a particular place. Recently, images of violence against Black bodies have become hyper-visible in mainstream media, where they are used as symbols to rally activism for racial justice. The artists’ rejection of racist archetypes which serve consumerist visual and material culture, opposes normalising the perception of Black identity as being in a constant existential struggle, a fight for visibility, survival and perpetual victimhood. Re(Pose) explores how portraiture of Black subjects goes beyond representation towards a radical form of activism.
Expanding on the artists, Nwagbogu tells: “Eniwaye and WonderBuhle are standouts in the field of emerging global painters. They are part of a movement of Black figurative painters who have something to say and the élan to go with it. There is a sort of void that these artists are responding to; there remains a comparative lack of Black figures in contemporary visual culture. Their creative vision and sensibility introduces something new and unexpected into this liminal space which offers multiple scenarios and possibilities. I consider their presence and practice as going beyond representation.” Here the subjects are not celebrities, superstars or famous personalities. Instead, they are relatives, friends and associates—an alternative part of the Black archive of experience.
Responding to whether and how he perceives the artists’ practices to be in dialogue with one and other, Nwagbogu explains: “Within the context of this exhibition, explicitly. In practice, rather implicitly. With WonderBuhle, there is often a restrained mischief and subliminal or satirical messaging in his art. Eniwaye has a complimentary younger sibling-like approach that is more quiet but equally penetrating. In (Re)Pose there is a clear dialogue that begins with both artists from a personal familial disposition to more universal themes which condenses into the idea of our much recited common humanity.” The works by WonderBuhle and Eniwaye Oluwaseyi are not about “Black Excellence” or “Black Misery.” The artists prefer not to represent either extreme. They are more interested in their normative existence where, as Nwagbogu puts, “a common humanity resides.”
Feature image: Eniwaye Oluwaseyi, The Field Trip, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Ron Mandos