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Amelia Etlinger: An American Original

Visual Poems from 1972 to 1983

from September 10th until November 8th 2020

Osart Gallery returns to explore the African artistic scene in the group show African Characters.

As the title suggests, most of the protagonists of the works of Kate Gottgens, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Neo Matloga, Richard Mudariki and Gareth Nyandoro are people. The aim of African Characters is to present to the public the current artistic scene of South Africa. The selected works are on show in Italy for the first time. They portray scenes of everyday life set between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Through five different stories, each artist offers a cross-section of humanity that reflects the political, social and cultural situation of contemporary Africa.

The oils on canvas by Kate Gottgens (1965, Durban, South Africa) illustrate the daily life of the South African middle class. The people she portrays are depicted as melancholy figures set within contexts normally associated with recreation: at the edge of a swimming pool, on the beach or in the middle of a day trip. Dance, Dance, Dance (2016) reflects precisely this paradox. The title is an oxymoron in comparison to what the artist actually shows us: the background of the work is black and the figures can barely be made out. In a corner of the painting a bunch of coloured balloons appears to be watching the scene. Irrespective of the places portrayed, what the artist is interested in is pointing up the illusions and ambiguities of a society left to its own devices, and naturally she uses the pictorial technique to do this. The scenes that she illustrates are so blurred and confused that the figures appear to fade as if they were ghosts. In this way Kate successfully transmits a general aura of sadness that arouses the empathy of the observer.

The large oil on canvas Untitled (2016) by Kudzanai-Violet Hwami (1993, Zimbabwe) is a self-portrait on a bright background colours of yellow, red and blue, in which the naturalistic connotation of the figure rarefies. These vibrant colours recur in most of the artist’s production which is inspired by her own experience. The approach is autobiographical with a strong nostalgic connotation, connected to the movements that signed her life: after she lived in Zimbabwe, she moved to South Africa when she was nine years old, she stayed there until she was seventeen, when she went to UK. Kudzanai-Violet is a young Zimbabwe woman, one of the many who have directly experienced the kuDiaspora, the phenomenon of those seeking a new life outside Zimbabwe. In this painting Violet has portrayed herself as a young girl that seems to be posing for a photograph - she often take the subjects of her paintings from old family photographs. She is standing holding in her hands two hens waiting to be sold. Violet’s story is one of memory and belonging, painted with brave and sensitive brushstrokes that reveal a deep bond with her native land.

Neo Matloga (1993, Limpopo, South Africa) is also interested in human relations, especially in the domestic and family context. Using charcoal and ink he depicts his characters as they dance, eat and chat. The work of Neo Matloga explores different levels of intimacy, and the absence of colour produced by favouring cold tones such as black, white and grey leaves more room for the imagination. The characterisation of the figures is original: the heads and faces are, like the hands and arms, made up of newspaper cuttings. In this play of collage, Matloga reveals to us the different facets of the human heart. In his work transpires an ironic gaze of dadaist matrix. Bina le nna (2019) illustrates the drama of the social, economic and political conditions that affect life inside and outside the home.

Looking at the acrylic painting of Richard Mudariki (1985, Seke, Zimbabwe) the eye is immediately struck by the presence of images of a strong universal message. His semi-realistic paintings underscore various social and political topics common to Africa and the world as a whole: the fall of the President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, the water crisis in Cape Town and political instability in the era of Brexit.

In the acrylic on canvas Art Fair Booth (2019) Mudariki refers to one of the dynamics characteristic of the art market: the gallery’s attendance at art fairs. The paradoxical presence of an ATM inside the stand symbolically refers to the inevitable commercial side of a specialised fair such as that portrayed, and in general to the economic structure underpinning the art market. The only person portrayed is hiding timidly behind the ATM . . . Could it possibly be the gallery manager?

Richard addresses this topic through a unique visual language; his ironical references to European History of art are united to bright colours, flat fields and irregular perspectives.

The art of Gareth Nyandoro (1982, Zimbabwe) dwells on human interaction within the urban context. The intricacy of the structure of the cities (Pa Tonaz in Zimbabwe slang) and of human relations is mirrored in the technique favoured by the artist. Using a process similar to décollage – defined as Kuchekacheka – Gareth scores and cuts the cardboard to create veritable portraits. Gareth is an astute observer of human behaviour and his works ponder street life in Harare and elsewhere. He defines his characters through the use of ink and plastics applied on canvas. In Jedza welders (2019), he portrays two workman busy in one of the typical open-air shops where, as the sign says, repairs on metal are carried out.

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