Kwesi Botchway: Becoming as well as Being
Presently on view in Gallery 1957, London is Becoming as well as Being, a solo exhibition by Ghanaian artist Kwesi Botchway. Taking its title from an essay by the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the exhibition considers the mercurial nature of identity, particularly as it relates to colour-consciousness, representation, and perceptions of beauty. Co-curated by writer Ekow Eshun, the show presents new larger-scale figurative works, including personal portraits of the artist’s friends and peers, as well as imagery sourced from social media.
Through his work, Botchway contributes to an evolving genre of portraiture painting seeking to document contemporary Black – and distinctly African – identity, where local meets global, indigenous meets diaspora and traditional meets contemporary. Considering the impossibility of representing a singular Black experience, Botchway takes a deliberately non-naturalistic approach to portraiture. His subjects are rendered in purple. Their eyes are orange. The result is an intense, hyper-stylised depiction of the Black figure that seems concerned with articulating sensibility more than authenticity. ‘I don’t want to just produce realistic work but works that speak loud and can prompt dialogue,’ says the artist. ‘My focus is to be more conceptual, focusing on the language of colour. I want to elevate Blackness and also what Black truly represents.’
Created whilst in-residence at the gallery’s Accra space, many under lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the works reflect on an unprecedented moment of both sensitivity and survival; at times a space for creation, though often fiercely punctuated by stressors of global racial and political unrest. In the work Blacklivesmatter (divine protestings), Botchway depicts protesters carrying a banner and placards; set against a block background of bright yellow, the individuals appear triumphant, not defeated. In Blue Stool Gaze, Botchway presents a female perched in an almost Classical pose – her eyes gazing into the distant whilst the ruffles of a pink net dress hang around her shoulders – playing with tropes of the European art canon. Through this process of refiguring, Botchway re-imagines existing narratives beyond the works, be they art historical or body political.
According to Ekow Eshun, “Kwesi Botchway is an artist of compelling vision whose paintings speak of the richness and complexity of black lives. These are bold, conceptual works that suggest black identity as fluid not fixed and multiple not singular. They are portraits that capture blackness, in the words of Stuart Hall, as a state of ‘becoming as well as being’.”
Born in Accra, Ghana in 1994, Botchway’s figurative paintings consider colour-consciousness, identity representation, and perceptions of beauty. He studied art at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design, before enrolling at the Academy of Visual Arts, Frankfurt. He held his first international solo exhibition Dark Purple is Everything Black at Gallery 1957, Ghana in early 2020. His works form part of important private collections internationally. Kwesi Botchway is also the founder of WorldFaze, Accra, an artist studio and residency space focussing on supporting young artists locally.
Kwesi Botchway: Becoming as well as Being runs at Gallery 1957, London until 11 December 2020.
January 15, 2021
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