Nelly Guambe: Caras
Running from November 9, 2019, to January 24, 2020, Stevenson, Johannesburg will present Caras, a solo exhibition by Nelly Guambe comprising installation and drawing.
Having garnered notice for her portraits on canvas, Guambe now presents a constellation of visages on paper. The works in Caras (‘Faces’ in Portuguese) were catalysed by the disaster images following reportage on Cyclone Idai (March 2019), considered one of the worst recorded storms to affect the Southern Hemisphere. Guambe recalls seeing images of people united in abjection, noting: “I was drawing in my room, and in those images, there was something that touched me; it touched me to my core, and I don’t know where this is taking me.”
The melancholic, diminutive faces in Caras were made between the artist’s home of Maputo and Cape Town’s Breaking Bread, where she recently completed a residency. She describes her process as one of finding ways to express what she sees around her. Of both the disaster footage and impressions accumulated during her travels through Cape Town, Guambe remarks at being struck by the inevitable formation of social ecosystems, as well as the dilemma between fear and trust in the negotiation of space.
Mar de Gente (‘Ocean of People’), a new series of mass portraits, also articulates Guambe’s exploration of agency within collectivity. The interiority of each figure is asserted at the same time as it forms part of the crowd. Guambe adds, ‘They start existing when I open their eyes. Sometimes they really look at you. They say, “I’ve arrived”.’
The cautious vulnerability of Guambe’s portraits is echoed in the artist’s chosen mode of presentation. Installed with wire rather than mounted and enclosed, the works’ symbiosis is reflected in their materiality, with Guambe stating: ‘The pages are also vulnerable and reliant; they all need each other. It’s not fixed.’
Nelly Guambe (born 1987 in Inhambane, Mozambique) is the winner of the inaugural Emerging Painting Invitational prize, Harare, and the Mozal prize in the Category ‘Artes Plasticas’ (both 2019). Her potent portraits activate abstract and internal interrogations of how the psychology of womanhood can be expressed physically. With their characteristically large, probing eyes, her subjects seduce viewers into an emotive landscape questioning the restless and ambiguous social realities that the artist believes many contemporary southern African women may find themselves in.
Guambe began painting in 2011 when she joined the Mozambican Artist Association, Nucleo de Arte, after completing a BA in International Relations and Diplomacy in South Africa a year earlier. The themes of everyday womanhood and the human figure that feature in her painting are reflected in the artist’s simultaneous venture into fashion design. She established two up-cycling fashion brands between 2012 and 2016, and in 2017 she cofounded the Deal Creative Space in Maputo, which promotes Design, Entertainment, Arts, and Literature. Her first solo exhibition, Inquietude (Restlessness) took place in September 2017 at the Nucleo de Arte, Maptuo. Her work was also included in Stevenson’s About Face exhibition in 2018.
Guambe will exhibit concurrently with Steven Cohen.
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