Henri Abraham Univers, Sanaa Gateja, Johnson Uwadinma & Armand Boua
HENRI ABRAHAM UNIVERS
The work of Franco-Burkinabe artist, Henri Abraham Univers opens the door to a world that is both marvellous and mocking, home to humour as well as poetry. In the painting, Excusez-moi Maître Léonard, Univers plays on conventions between tradition and modernity, and offers viewers the portrait of a 21st century Mona Lisa with her ‘head in the stars’* – stars that feature as a common thread throughout each of his paintings. A landmark symbol of western pictorial tradition, an undisputed Italian Renaissance masterpiece and a French national treasure, the Mona Lisa is where the artist’s various inspirations meet.
Univers grew up in Ivory Coast before discovering the rest of the world during his travels. This artist of the diaspora has shaped a distinct cosmic universe in which he expresses his scathing vision of reality. Several of the artist’s hallmarks (Time is Love,
Time is Money, No Races Only Men) are maliciously dotted around the Italian icon, presented with a dark black face and scarified forehead, reminding viewers of the critical power of art.
With fine beadwork on bark, White Mood fully reflects the work of Sanaa Gateja, a universally acclaimed Ugandan artist. Nicknamed ‘The Bead King’, Gateja derives his name from being the inventor of beads made of recycled paper. In tune with the current political debate regarding sustainable development, this visionary recycles the materials surrounding him, and always has. Recycling offers bound – less creativity. Here the paper is cut into narrow strips and carefully rolled to form beads of all shapes and colours.
Gateja, for whom transmission is of key importance – he founded the Kwetu African Art and Development Centre in Kampala – is committed to training artisans in Uganda’s most rural communities, an activity that supports these populations economically. With accuracy akin to a jeweller, the beads are then sewn onto bark, a material for which the artist has a preference. The resulting play of texture and relief conjures up brushstrokes on canvas. This vibrancy is conveyed through the tempo of the white, red, black and yellow used, the colours of Independence. White Mood is a painting of beads, a sensitive portrayal, a combination of abstract motifs, revealing a reinvented Ugandan flag to those familiar with it.
Nigerian artist Johnson Uwadinma has a particular interest in memory and how it is manipulated to the whims of politics. According to him, “We are constantly engaged in repetitious conflict, violence, war, political ignorance, corruption and deceit. We repeat history, we never learn. Knowledge fails us, history and truth gets erased.” Condemning lack of awareness, Uwadinma endeavours to awaken minds through emphasising the media’s inability to reconstruct the past and the threat represented by oblivion. The acrylic on canvas, In Denial, produced in 2015, featured in the exhibition The Afterlife of Forgetting (2017) at the Boys’ Quarters Project Space in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Newspaper cuttings stand out against a conspicuously white and brick background, reminding us of the mediacrazed world that surrounds us. This story will always be there beneath the veneer, despite indifference. In the foreground there is a figure with a lowered head, adorned with numerous colourful squares to represent the complex, multi-faceted memory. It is an array of recollections or interpretations of a past that is constantly omitted and reworked. The artist portrays the role of collective memory in personal construction, exploring the workings of so-called official history in individual memory.
In a format that is closely framed and almost photographic, Ivorian artist Armand Boua portrays encounters with children living on the streets of Abidjan. Boua has developed a special technique in a style reminiscent of street art and graphic art. On recycled cardboard, against a bloodred background, the artist alternates layers of acrylic and tar that is then scraped and scratched. Faces with unclear outlines emerge and characters come to life, much to the surprise of curious bystanders.
Through his work, Boua pays tribute to these forgotten, lost children who are the collateral victims of a country that has been gripped by political turmoil and violence for several years. Each painting is a snapshot of everyday life that is captured on the spot by the artist, a social fresco diverted from the reality of the misery through the poetry of art.
An article by Mathilde Allard
Featured image : Henri Abraham Univers, Excusez-moi Maitre Léonard, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 80 × 80 cm. Courtesy of Henri Abraham Univers and Retro Africa.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | ART X Lagos Artpaper. [French version inside]