Fresh to def: The Black Cool and the Continual passages of time and faint thresholds of memory, in Gideon Appah’s Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes (Part 2)
an afrovisualism essay by Justin Smith
Read part 1 here!
Gideon crosses planes of existence, in transition, from everyday life to dreamscapes, curator Amber Esseiva states in her curatorial essay “people [are] suspended in a sort of nothing. While certain figures are still seen in front of recognizable spaces like clubs, cityscapes, and cabs, float in abstracted fields of color, or appear against surrealist landscapes.”
We see Red Girl I, Nude Boy, and The Young Minotaur paired together in a triptych, each appearing in a continuum of pictorial isolation with red, yellow-green, and purple backgrounds. These scenes are mundane and still, with no real sense of time passing. Appah states in an interview with Something Curated:
“I am interested in the expressions of the figure, body language, and the obscurity of the space that I place them in.”
Gideon’s figurative sensibilities create inviting dialogue on diving deeper in-between thresholds of the physical world and the subconscious mind.
Image 1, left to right: Red Girl I (2020-21) oil on canvas; Nude Boy (2021) oil on canvas; The Young Minotaur (2021) oil and acrylic on canvas. Image 2, left to right: White Castle (2021), oil on sewn canvas; Remember Our Stars (2020) oil and acrylic on canvas; Ten Nudes and a Landscape (2021) oil on canvas. Exhibition view Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, Markel Center, Gallery 2, Gideon Appah: Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes, (Feb 19, 2022 – Jun 19, 2022). Photo: David Hale.
A tonal shift happens in White Castle, sitting along a dreamscape, isolated on an island surrounded by foliage, with a reflection beneath it. The black canvas patterned with white dots, on a bright starry night at a distance. The reflection of the castle appears on the surface of water or a mirage in a desert.
Another interpretation—albeit more haunting—what could be the Ghanaian Cape Coast Castle, where the ‘Door of No Return’ is located. Situated on a coastline, white orbs could indicate a spiritual presence of the enslaved. These are reminders of the ancestral plane that are a remembrance—a continuation of life after death.
The Young Minotaur appears against the same cloudy purple background as Nude Boy but instead of standing he is gazing into space. The minotaur is a transfiguration—a human-animal hybrid. This hybridization is an obscurity on its own, but also what could possibly be interpreted as a haunting trepidation into the unknown. The minotaur is sometimes seen as a symbol of death and also of the fear of death; oftentimes a common diasporic subconscious thought, by way of “monstrous intimacies,” as defined by Christina Sharpe as “examining those subjectivities constituted from transatlantic slavery onward and connected, then as now, by the everyday mundane horrors that aren’t acknowledged to be horrors”.
Left to right: Cover, Christina Sharpe’s Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects , Duke University Press, 2010; Jane Alexander, Butcher Boys, detail, 1985/86, mixed media (Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, photo: Goggins World); Nandipha Mntambo EUROPA, 2008, archival ink on cotton rag paper, photography.
South African artists Nandipha Mntambo and Jane Alexander both display varied depictions of minotaurs. Mntambo photographically depicts herself as a black female minotaur with a piercing gaze in Europa. She describes this instance of hybridization as, “in-between space that you can’t always pinpoint or articulate.” Jane Alexander’s sitting minotaurs in Butcher Boys are bone-like disfigured humanoids. Both of these instances of bull-human hybridization are more closely related to the ramifications of apartheid but the particular choice of a figurative subject like a minotaur, circumstances rendering someone as nonhuman, is what horror can be. What the minotaur could simply be is a representation of the human psyche, in an alternate form.
These visually tonal shifts suggest a transition to an otherworldly ambiguous environment where Gideon’s works live, noting a more internal, contemplative plane that is surreal, potentially Afro-Surreal. D Scot Miller’s AfroSurreal Manifesto suggests that:
“beyond this visible world, there is an invisible world striving to manifest, and it is our job to uncover it…An Afro-Surreal aesthetic addresses these lost legacies and reclaims the souls of our cities… Afro-Surrealists use excess as the only legitimate means of subversion, and hybridization as a form of disobedience.”
The idea of the Afro-surreal as a contextual uncovering of an invisible environment relates to Gideon’s interest to display Ghana in its prime while also crossing the reflective threshold of fantastical.
The large reddish color field paintings placed together suggest a tonal resonance within this transitory world. Red Valley has mountainous views in red and black hues. Ten Nudes in a Landscape has impressions of volcanic landscapes with the silhouettes of various figures superimposed throughout. What may be the ghosts of the smoking club goers in their parked cars, these characters may have crossed over from the nightlife into this otherworldly realm.
Gideon Appah: Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes, (Feb 19, 2022 – Jun 19, 2022). Photos: David Hale. All charcoal on paper. Left to right: Black Moon (2021), Nubian Male (2021), Angry Bush with the Sun (2021).
Nubian Male, Angry Bush with Sun, and Black Moon are a collection of smaller charcoal drawings, placed together in the gallery, that feel like brief journal entries taking on the form of loose renderings of portraits and landscapes alike that feel warm like the paintings.
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