Evans Mbugua’s exhibition: an upbeat call for Dialogue

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Evans Mbugua, Flow, 2017
Evans Mbugua, Flow, 2017, Courtesy of Gallery of African Art (GAFRA)

There is no better antidote to a grey and cold winter weekend than an afternoon at GAFRA (Gallery of African Art) immersed in the electrifying and resolutely optimistic world of Evans Mbugua and his first UK solo exhibition: Dialogue.

In our modern world, where image is everything and lasting impression are made in a few seconds, you would be forgiven for stopping at the first impression of Mbugua’s latest work: dynamic and colorful portraits of contemporary dancers.

The figure of each dancer emerges in dotted lines against an identical colorful background made of feet pictograms. Each dancer is standing in their own space yet they are all dancing together. Separate yet together. United and in dialogue through the shared rhythm of a silent tune.

Evans Mbugua, Spin, 2017
Evans Mbugua, Spin, 2017, Courtesy Gallery of African Art (GAFRA)

To appreciate all the components of this visual choreography, there is a need to slow down. If you linger for a while, to take in the colors, the movements, then the paintings open up to reveal their depths and you find yourself immersed in the world of Mbugua. A world in which everything seems playful yet carries deep meaning. The colorful glasses worn by all his characters, are statements that there is more to them “than meet the eyes”. Mundane daily signs are potentially infinitesimal small elements of a pattern destined to be the print background of a portrait. As for the dots, each dot symbolizes a person, the other dots that make up the figure of that very person symbolize their family and by extension the “village” that it took to raise that person. The outer layer of the painting, the perspex, mimics the effect of stained glass and constantly changes the way the artwork is perceived. Together, these layers form Mbugua’s modern, 3D, take on pointillism. His paintings are an open invitation to dialogue. A dialogue that is first and foremost based on a call to see differently – to go back to the origin of the verb see – which is “follow with your eyes”.

Evans Mbugua, Chick Blue-Sky, 2017
Evans Mbugua, Chick Blue-Sky, 2017, Courtesy of Gallery of African Art (GAFRA)

So to understand the upbeat world that engages your senses, you have to follow Mbugua himself and understand how he evolved to become the person and the artist he is today.

He was born and grew up in Kenya. From his childhood, he kept his Mother’s simple yet powerful mantras: “Life is not a rehearsal” and “Now is the most important moment”. The urgency of the present continues to “inform his artistic expression” and has driven him to be an unrepentant optimist. He is unapologetically happy and says every morning, he is “looking forward to what [he] will be doing”. His optimism, what French people call “voir la vie en rose” (seeing life through rose tainted glasses) is infused in his paintings and even better reflected in the funky eyewears he is experimenting with at the moment.

Quaote by Evans MbuguaHe moved to France after his A levels. His teachers at Art school in Toulouse (Southern France) encouraged him to find his own way of expressing himself. Today, he still credits them to have helped him “find [his] voice”. He worked first as a graphic designer and artistic director before fully embracing the life and the career of an artist. Somehow, the dots could be a metaphor for his own trajectory. Although he admitted to having always been creative, he never defined himself as an artist and kept all his prints out of sight in his home studio. He had an epiphany in 2011 and decided to go back to old projects and experiment further. That is how the 3D pointillist paintings came to being.

Highlight’, his first solo exhibition in Paris, included mainly portraits that were exploring the identity of a multicultural youth. With ‘Dialogue’, Mbuaga is pushing the boundaries of his work as his striking characters are now in motion and deployed over larger scale canvases. He is also experimenting with the other end of the spectrum: mini scale paintings focusing on our main organ of communication: the mouth. It is dissected and seen through various prisms in the basement of the gallery, where the exhibition continues with a recorded performance.

In a world filled with angry and loud monologues, Mbugua is resolutely going against the tide. In the same way the paintings of the exhibition are borne out of collaboration with two contemporary dancers, he is exploring the collaborative space between elements. Mbugua is not only inviting you to follow the dialogue between the art pieces but also between the dots themselves. This is also a multidimensional call to an exchange with the artworks. This joyful invitation to dialogue is a breath of fresh air, some may even call it antidote art that is not to be missed.

Dialogue” at the Gallery of African Art in London, until January 27th 2018.

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