Faig Ahmed’s carpets melt and dissolve into blurs and puddles. The rug is a traditional household item; and it is this commonness that attracts the artist. By taking these rugs from the floor and to the gallery wall, Ahmed inevitably draws emphasis to the overlooked beauty of these everyday decorative items. Something ignored beneath our feet is now given a moment’s consideration. It’s not just the existing beauty of these rugs that Ahmed is working with. In fact, he completely disrupts the rugs. In some, like Door of Doors, he turns the carpet into a trompe l’oeil, or an optical illusion. In Pixel Series, the pattern breaks down into a series of pixelated distortions, as if it stopped loading midway through. Traditional iconography meets digital iconography. The rugs in Flood Series are covered in dripping paint. As much as he draws emphasis to this tradition and its beauty, he immediately subverts it.
It makes sense that Fakhriyya Mammadova comes from a background in ceramics and design. Her photographs are anything but two dimensional. In her exhibition and series, Dua*s, Mammadova uses her camera lens to tenderly capture quiet scenes of daily life. Two women walk down a mountain path, a group of men wade in shallow water, a young girl licks a popsicle, several stare off into the distance. Each of these photographs is overlaid with another image – a flock of birds, tree branches, a distant landscape. The photographs now feel like a memory box, a collection of moments that are working together but also challenging us to see one and both at the same time.
Some more contemporary Azerbaijani artists: Aida Mahmudova, Farhad Farzaliyev, Orkhan Huseynov, Djemma Sattar, Sanan Aleskerov, and Babi Badalov
As if alive, Sonia Gomes’ sculptures slither down the walls and from ceilings. They are immobile but their anthropomorphic forms, both bulbous and straggly, curve and dangle like a snake in waiting. Gomes is an artist of African descent living in rural Brazil. She brings her African heritage into her work – in focusing on craft, in using textiles. The material of textiles is an external material, something used to cloak and protect the body. But in Gomes’ work, textiles are stripped into infinitely looping rope-like forms that look more like the internal nerves of the body than anything that might be reportedly protective.
Combing through images of Rosana Paulino‘s has the immediate impression of wading through someone’s personal memory box. But the pleasantness ends pretty quickly. Her subject matter is charged and complicated. As an Afro-Latina, Paulino’s artwork explores the trauma and difficulty of being an African in Latin America, particularly by bringing forward conversations of the region’s slavery. In several works, she takes a taxonomical approach by using photographs of black naked bodies, that allow – and implicate – the viewer in looking at the bodies as an object, like a master would have looked at a slave. She incorporates sewing, as a motif and as a technique, literally weaving her current practice into years of history.
Some more contemporary Brazilian artists: Ana Mazzei, Laura Lima, Anna Bella Geiger, Jac Leirner, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Ana Maria Tavares, Marlon de Azambuja, Rivane Neuenschwander, Flávio Cerqueira, Dalton Paula, Jaime Lauriano, and Maxwell Alexandre.
For artist Soledad Arias, language is her material. As she describes, “I explore the materiality of language, the phonetic, visual and poetic dimensions of a text or a word as a two-and three-dimensional entity in the context of human relations.” In her practice, she visually inserts words onto postcards, tree trunks, strings of flags, and in neon. In her series, acoustic wall #1 (2012), Arias brings to life the language of theater scripts that is performed but not spoken. In doing so, Arias not only draws attention to what is unsaid but also the relationship between language and performativity.
Lilian Porter may not set out to make humorous artwork, but a few audience chuckles are inevitable. In her most recent series from 2018, currently exhibited at El Museo del Barrio in New York City, tiny little figurines interact – and actually produce – her works of art. Red Sand (2018) has a woman, no larger than 2 inches, sweeping at red sand that swirls into a larger more striking sculpture.
Some more contemporary Argentinian artists: Leandro Katz, Guillermo Kuitca, Alberto Greco, Irene Kopelman, Mariana De Matteis, Alejandra Tavolini, Agustina Woodgate, Vivian Suter, Sara Slipchinsky, Amalia Pica, Ines Raiteri, Luz Peuscovich, Leila Tschopp, and Graciela Sacco
Within the broad category of painting, Anibal Vallejo dabbles from one end of the spectrum in figuration to the other in abstraction. El Vuelo (2013) updates the iconic painting of a reclining female nude, á la Manet or Titian, but with a distracting swan flying directly through the scene and blocking the women’s face. It parodies the pedestal upon which these paintings have historically been placed. A Bigger Splash (2011) references David Hockney’s iconic painting (which beat historical auction records this week). But rather than a diving man, it’s a diving car. And two years after this art historical conversation, Vallejo slides from figuration (and appropriation) into abstraction with A Bigger Splash (After Hockney) (2013). While the color palette of the embroidered hexagons reference the British artist, the rest has moved away into an abstraction that is entirely Vallejo.
Born in Bogotá, Leyla Cárdenas uses her artistic practice to explore her interest in the natural world, the built world, and very often their intersections. For example, in El tiempo lo aguanta todo (2014) and Permutations (2014), she photographs buildings before they are about to be destroyed and then attaches those photographs to the physical remnants of those destroyed buildings. In their mosaic-like display, the past comes back to life. She preserves the past while maintaining its history of destruction. In Excision (2012), she recreates a tiny slice of a former Bogotá home in the interest of making a point about the layers of history that exist within such seemingly tiny slivers of our built environment.
Some more contemporary Colombian artists: Ruby Rumié, Maria Berrio, Juan Fernando Herrán, Mateo Lopez, Pablo Gomez Uribe, Liliana Angulo Cortés, Alberto Baraya, Monika Bravo, Herlyng Ferla, Miguel Ángel Rojas, Alberto Baraya, Alejandro Sanchez,Alexandra McCormick, Nancy Friedmann-Sanchez, Ana Patricia Palacios,
Genti Korini‘s paintings are both architectural translations and polychromatic abstractions. Korini looks to the vernacular architecture of his city, Tirana, Albania, to translate it into his paintings. Sometimes, those paintings are accurate illustrations of three-dimensional forms in space. But more often, those paintings are abstracted shapes disinterested in space and perspective. It is this back-and-forth between two- and three-dimensional renderings that make Korini’s work so interesting. His body of work demonstrates an artist experimenting, exploring, and questioning the translation of the three-dimensional world onto the two-dimensional canvas. And to throw another wrench into his examinations, he titles several of his works, “From Screen to Canvas.” In so doing, Korini doesn’t just reveal his interest in the physical transformed into its representation, but also the translation that happens between technology and its artistic representation.
Ledia Kostandini keeps finding new ways to erode boundaries. For instance, in When I Look Into the Mirror, Kostandini employs a square mirror to bring into the photographic frame what is outside of the frame. One solitary figure holds up a mirror with a reflection of a block of buildings; another mirror reflects a lone cloud in a blue sky. She most certainly erodes the boundaries between inside and outside in both Hangout and Blockwork. Hangout brings her artwork outdoors by pasting colorful life-size figures onto the facade of an apartment building. The 2D figures dangle from window frames or tiptoe across electrical lines. Blockwork brings the outside into the gallery by pasting photographic reproductions of concrete structures onto the white gallery walls.
Some more contemporary Albanian artists: Alketa Ramaj, Henrjeta Mece, Heldi Pema, Adrian Paci, Anri Sala, Edi Rama, Nico Anguili, Ilir Kaso, Edi Hila, Endri Dana, and Silva Agostini
There is a deadpan humor to the work of Edson Chagas. He uses the most straightforward medium for capturing one’s identity — portraiture. However, through always covering the face, he never focuses on the model’s identity. Rather, those identities are disguised in favor of a commercial or cultural signifier. The shopping bag transforms the subject into an embodiment and commentary on consumerism. The African mask references stereotypes of African culture, performance, and identity. The masks, juxtaposed with the sitter’s contemporary clothing, feel absurd. Yet is the absurdity found in the out-of-placeness of the mask, or the blandness of the sitter’s only signs of identity (his clothing)?
Like Chagas, Keyezua is in the art of making portraits without revealing the face. Sometimes, as in it is a matter of putting another face on top of the sitter’s face. Yet the caucasian mask does not entirely hide the black sitter. Holes are cut for the sitter’s nose and lips and her exposed shoulders, neck, and hair are emphasized in contrast to the flat, turquoise background. These portraits are part of Keyezua’s larger exploration of black identity. In the video Beautiful People Know, a young woman sits before the camera braiding her hair and then braiding book pages into her hair. In the background, the audio of a hair commercial from the 70’s repeats. In each work, Keyezua draws attention to the unique beauty of her African subjects to emphasize the beauty of blackness.
Some more contemporary Angolan artists: Rita GT, António Ole, Yonamine, Nástio Mosquito, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Francisco Vidal, Binelde Hyrcan, N’Dilo Mutima, and Iris Chocolate.
From the natural tragedy of flood to the casualness of the bar culture, local Mozambican life comes alive in the miniature sculptures of artist Dino Jethá. Jethá practices the traditional Mozambican art form, psikelekedana, softwood carving made from the wood of the cashew nut trees. These little vignettes reveal individual moments of what life in his town looks like but also create a broader narrative through the series of these individual moments. Jethá embraces the tragic (death scenes) and the mundane (market visits). His attention to detail is reflective of a sensitivity that only a local can endow to each scene.
Pedro Vaz’s paintings look as if, like a child, he slid his fingers through paint and then across the canvas. There is not much definition to his monotone canvases. And yet, suddenly the form of a mountain, a mass of trees, or a forest path emerges. Subtlety is key to Vaz’s work. It requires a moment of focus, and in turn, he treats the viewer to the quiet serenity of paying attention. In some shows, he includes photographs and in others he presents his works outside of the gallery and in situ. No matter the format – video immersion or painted canvas – Vaz transports his viewers into the pristine, untouched nature that only exists away from mankind.
Some more contemporary Mozambican artists: Ângela Ferreira, Ilidio Candja Candja, Mauro Pinto, Filipe Branquinho, Jorge Dias, Mário Macilau, Titos Pelembe, Goncalo Mabunda, and Titos Mobata.
Whether it’s a self-portrait, a portrait of another woman, or a portrait of her father, the hanging tapestries by Zohra Opoku carry the delicacy and intimacy of an old family photograph or newspaper clipping. They appear old even though they are not. This aged and often-blurry aesthetic (because of the silkscreening process) is representative of Opoku’s efforts to make sense of her past that was not always accessible to her. She grew up in Germany but her father, who was Ghanian, passed away young taking with him her knowledge of that side of the family. Portraying her family is one way she reconnects with her past, while using fabric as her medium is a way she connects with her present Ghanian culture. Fabric is the material of woman, and Opoku is interested in making herself part of this community of women.
The power of Raphael Adjetey Mayne’s portraiture comes almost entirely from his subject’s body language. The portraits say a lot without actually providing the viewer much to work with. Mayne does not illustrate facial features nor background settings. The most detail is in the patterns of the traditional African fabrics which he collages to create the portraits. But still, we as viewers have no trouble reading these bodies. Tour Boyz (2018) is a group of four boys, probably three friends with one younger brother, dressed up with their tucked-in collared shirts in a moment of waiting. Take Me Serious (2017) is a young man with attitude who cares about his appearance, as seen in the shape of his very strong arms and coifed hair. Using a material of his culture as his medium, Mayne’s series is a multifaceted portrait of the people of Ghana.
Some more contemporary Ghanian artists: Godfried Donkor, Serge Attukwei Clottey, Ibrahim Mahama, John Akomfrah, Jeremiah Quarshie, Diseye Tantua, Kekeli Sumah, Larry Achiampong, Kwame Asante Agyare, and Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh
The flat canvases of Chemu Ng’ok’s paintings writhe with a tense anxiety. In Untitled (2015), her central figure is less a defined body than a head of loose, unraveling lines and a torso of overlapping paint streaks. Realistic planes are ignored as a pair of feet dangle above the central figure’s body and escape from the frame. In Riot I (2015), a group of bodies aggressively reach their arms away from the canvas frame. Like the floating legs, the arms focus on something beyond the edge of the painting. Splashes of red paint are not just a painterly drip but rather, blood. In only gesturing towards reality and placing the scene beyond what the viewer can see, Ng’ok creates an imaginary space to explore ideas of violence, relationships, and society.
Tahir Carl Karmali may be based in Brooklyn nowadays, but his artwork heavily mines his African history. In Strata (2017), Karmali extracts the copper, cobalt oxide, and aluminum from rechargeable batteries to create a dye for his raffia cloth hangings. In so doing, he calls attention to the ways in which colonialism still exists through the use and abuse of mining in the Congo. He transforms a colonialist product into a reflection on contemporary colonialism. This global concern becomes more individual. In one series, he visualizes displacement — and gives agency to the displaced — through studio portraiture. In another series, Karmali has a heavier hand in the visualization of a group of people. He produces collaged portraits based on the idea of jua kali, an informal economy in Nairobi in which workers use recycled materials and found objects to make money. These portraits are Karmali’s attempt to shine a positive light on this often looked-down-upon sector of Nairobi’s economy.
Some more contemporary Kenyan artists: Chemu Ng’ok, Wangechi Mutu, Mwangi Hutter, Phoebe Boswell, Boniface Maina, Michael Armitage, Elias Mungora, David Thuku, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, Alex Malinda, Beatrice Wanjiku, and Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga
Pasted on all four walls of a gallery cube or hanging from cloths throughout the gallery, the black-and-white bodies bodies surround the visitors. The viewer becomes another body in this mass of bodies. In their repetition along the walls, it echoes the photograph sequences of Eadweard Muybridge in his scientific studies of the body in motion. But Maja Šofranac‘s interest in these bodies is more in the technological aspect than their mobility. In Silicon Man, for example, the two figures face one another and their bodies are composed of the intricate pattern of connecting wires that make up the inside of a computer chip, or other piece of technology. For Šofranac, our bodies are not only constantly interacting with technology, but they actually become technology. Her imagery quickly transforms from that of a prehistoric human (like those textbook graphics of how apes transformed into mankind) to a post-technologic human.
Not actually that different from Šofranac’s work is Blazo Kovacevic’s work. However, whereas she exposes the interiority of the body, his work exposes the interiority of human objects (trucks, bags, etc.). In the series, Probe I, Kovacevic illustrates handbags with their internal contents displayed through the process of x-ray screening. The work delves into questions of a surveillance state, public versus private rights, and individualism. The bright colors of each purse inject a deceivingly lighthearted Pop Art aesthetic into the works.
Some more contemporary Montenegrin artists: Tadija Janicic, Zdravko Joksimović, and Irena Lagator Pejović