Gideon Appah: Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes
Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes is Gideon Appah’s newly commissioned exhibition for the ICA. These paintings merge the artist’s interests in Ghanaian popular culture with his own imagination, dreams, and fantasies. Newspaper clippings, entertainment posters, and films spanning the 1950s through the ’80s become source material for Appah’s explorations of the rise and fall of Ghanaian cinema and leisure culture. The cycle of cultural memory—from heyday to bygone—is depicted in a series of portraits of illustrious and forgotten figures.
The paintings include striking scenes from public and private life. From dapper, club-going men as seen in Hyped Teen (2021) and Bliss (2020-21) to solitary figures of the theater painting series (2021); from nude people in vibrant landscapes in Nude Boy (2021) to the quiet, domestic scenes of A Woman Drowned in Water (2021) and Man in Bed (2021) Appah presents people at various stages of personhood, from their most arresting public selves to their most intimate private moments, at times even blurring the lines between the living and the dead.
Electric hues of blue, purple, and yellow give off the sensation of life at its fullest, while thick muddier compositions of gold, brown, and black portray eerie scenes, like a skull floating on stage in Skull (Right) (2021). Throughout Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes, Appah presents scenes suggesting a cycle of life: the brand new, the old, and the dying. Many figures are painted smoking, both as an homage to nightlife culture and, perhaps, as an omen of eventual decay. Appah’s work speaks to a sense of loss, from the death of cinema to the death of democracy itself, while working through that loss to generate something dreamlike and intangible. Some subjects lean against cars or soak in bathtubs, while others are suspended in a sort of nothing, as the built environment falls away to reveal a void space.
One central work in the exhibition, ROXY 2 (2021), harkens back to Ghana’s famous Roxy Cinema, in Accra, the capital city. Placing figures in a recognizable architectural space, this work and others serve as an homage to Ghana’s old cinema houses, which were once at the center of social life, particularly during the country’s struggle for independence from colonial rule in the 1950s and ’60s. Popular Ghanaian films, like The Boy Kumasenu (1952), I Told You So (1970), and Kukurantumi: Road to Accra (1983), sometimes serve as source material for environments and characters within these paintings. For Appah, these popular films allow the artist to grasp the ways in which cultural appetite evolves over time, creating memories that define peoples and cultures.
Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes is Appah’s first institutional solo exhibition, curated by the ICA’s Curator Amber Esseiva. This exhibition was produced with the support of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
Gideon Appah’s evocative paintings and drawings pull from experiences of intimacy and leisure that speak to recollection, history and mythology. His flattened, jewel-like compositions are centered around stylish figures, both known and imagined, luscious landscapes, prevalent architecture, African folklore and daily rituals from his childhood. These sumptuous scenes are often informed by post-independent Ghana, most readily sourced from film stills, newspaper clippings, journals and family photographs created in the 1960s through 1980s. One of the leading painters of his generation, Appah creates contemporary cosmopolitan worlds with a dreamlike, fauvist application to respond directly to his own familial stories and a country’s history.
Born in Ghana in 1987, Appah lives and works in Accra. His most recent solo show, Blue Boys Blues, was on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York in 2020. His works have also been exhibited internationally, including at Casa Barragan, Mexico City; Ghana Science Museum, Accra; Goethe Institute, Accra; KNUST Museum, Kumasi and Nubuke Foundation, Accra. His work is included in the collection of the Absa Museum, Johannesburg; Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, Marrakesh and Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto as well as private collections. He was shortlisted for the 2016 Kuenyehia Art Prize and 2022 Henrike Grohs Art Award.
Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes is Gideon Appah’s first institutional solo exhibition, curated by the ICA’s Curator Amber Esseiva. This exhibition was produced with the support of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
The artist gives thanks to God and his family: Mr. And Mrs. Appah, his brother Nana, and sister Asantewaa. Gratitude to friends, studio assistants, and models, especially Kaisan Abubakr, William Nyaxo, Awuni Mustapha, Shadrack Nyarko, and Prince Ikedinma.
Special thanks to both teams at Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery and ICA at VCU and to Courtney Willis Blair, Lucy Mitchell-Innes, David Nash, and Isabelle Hogenkamp for the endless support.
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