Date uncertain. Oil on hardboard
Along the valleys of the Nile and the Great Rift in eastern Africa, the agency of cattle in aesthetics and art-making dates in millennia to expression in rock art and temple murals, clay figurines, incised palettes; in centuries to expression in pastoralist ornaments; in decades to expression in gallery painting and photography, most currently in Jim Chuchu’s exotica Pagans IX, a reprise of Nilotic dancing in celebration of their long-horned cattle (1.54 Art Fairs, New York City and London, 2015).
Such immense expressivity provides context for the highly personal yet culturally resonant art of Jak Katarikawe (born circa 1940, Uganda; Nairobi resident since 1981). Through his artistic talent, commitment to work and some good luck, he has rationalized a frightful childhood, educational disability and outsider status to become a leading pioneer of picture-making in East Africa. In fact, his scrumptious, beautiful and sensitive, paintings have received international critical acclaim since the late 1960’s. This was reaffirmed in a recent review -- of Polly Savage’s book about 70 artists in Africa -- that focused on Katarikawe as a “master-painter of spirituality” based upon his luminescent brushwork of a convivial scene that depicts softly-coloured, lyre-horned cattle with their herdsman (Economist 20.12.14).
Cows Dreaming is a related mid-career painting that also involves the bovine imaginary. It is timely because Katarikawe’s alternative title We are the winners refers to the happiness felt by these three animals as ‘others’, as non-humans, because they have not been sacrificed for the human’s Christmas feast, and so have cause for celebration, for play, herein for sexual play. The scene depicts the climax of two animals in the sex act who are trying out a human sexual position while the smallest one observes benignly from behind (query, is he waiting his turn?). The strong diagonal thrust of the composition, rhythms of the horns and contrasting colours accentuate the climax. The joy of sex is also indicated by the over-sized butterfly in the centre of the large bull’s caressing horns, indeed, is central in the whole painting. For Katarikawe, the butterfly symbolizes human refreshment though sex and food which would seem universal pleasures for all species.
Note: Katarikawe’s works with similar imagery of cattle making love include: Untitled (before 1969) drawing; Why are we dying every day? (1974), oil, in Agthe and Court 2000; Untitled (1975-80), oil, Circle Art Agency Auction, 2013.
With wishes that fresh attention to Cows Dreaming will be joyful and stimulate renewed interest in the pioneer artist and his oeuvre.
Elsbeth Joyce Court
Personal communications with the artist, 2002; 2015.
Agthe and Court: Bilder aus Träumen: Jak Katarikawe, Uganda, 2001.
British Museum Galleries 25 (Africa), 64 & 65 (Early Egypt, Nubia, Sudan)
DAK’ART. 7th Biennial of African Contemporary Art, 2006.
Savage, ed. Making Art in Africa 1960-2010, 2015.
Under fluorescent lights, sailors in white uniforms walk along a portico. Off to the side of three men, also shrouded by darkness, is an unidentified photographer, who observes the sailors. The darkness offers the sailors an escape while posing challenges for a photographer who does not want to alert his presence. The dull street and bar lights benefit the photographer but reinforce multi-layered tensions between the photographer, his desired subjects, and onlookers and between darkness and light—juxtapositions central to the scene’s documentation. What are the soldiers there to do and why are they of interest to the photographer? These questions that seek to apprehend the photograph’s meaning denote the range of interactions happening on the street.
Ricardo Rangel photographed this scene in the capital city of Lourenço Marques. One of three photographs featured in the Iwalewahaus collection printed by the photographer himself, the picture titled “The Night of Sailors on Rua Araújo (1969)” is part of a two decade-long series “Our Nightly Bread” (1960-1974), which features men and women dancing, drinking, smoking, and talking in what was known as the “red-light district.” At the time, Rangel worked as a newspaper photographer responsible for documenting the colonial Portuguese state. Almost 2,500 km away in the colony’s northern section, the Portuguese and the exiled liberation movement FRELIMO fought over Mozambique’s independence. The sailors’ presence references this conflict. Here, Rangel pictures the in-between moments of independence that characterize daily life before Mozambique’s official independence in 1975. Night’s darkness introduced new ways for Rangel and his subjects to see and not see, to touch and not touch each other. The photograph’s ambiguities remind the viewer of the historical moment’s ironies.
Bard College, NY (USA)
January 22, 2016
A subtle grid is created by the vertical and horizontal placement of adinkra in the luminous picture from a series about how our “relationships have created the reality that we live in”.
Among the Akan (Ghana), adinkra, a hand printed and embroidered mourning cloth for mourning and special occasions, has provided graphic communication systems for five millennia. The silver and gold spheres are animated over the ultramarine background intertwined with the adinkra marked-figure of the artist star-gazing in awe. The stance is one of a conductor before an ensemble…
For over two decades, as a basis of his pictorial language, Owusu Ankomah (born in Sekondi, based in Bremen, Germany and Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana) has re-interpreted the ancient system of philosophies wherein the abstract and naturalistic signs are intertwined with the human form. Owusu-Ankomah’s admiration for Michelangelo’s work, his penchant for painting muscled-men in bright colours in the 1980s went through a monochromatic phase, mimicking the black and whites of adinkra, before finally morphing into the self-portraits engaged in stargazing.
In Prelude to the Microcron #14, Owusu-Ankomah departs from black and white, offering a palette of ultramarine, nuanced tones of indigo, gold and silver dots over a bluish-background - the colour of planet earth. The Microcron Begins (2015) elaborates his current position that “the vast infinite void is charged with the energy of consciousness”. Ironically, the effects of adinkra configurations entwined with muscled torsos in movement produce stasis. However, flat shapes, a delicacy of touch and linear quality, balance and rhythm, all handled adeptly, transform the modestly sized canvas into a work of monumentality.
Prof Obiora Udechukwu is a painter and poet, and arguably the most influential artist from Nigeria for several decades. He also is a former lecturer at the renowned University of Nigeria in Nsukka that birthed the Uli and the Nsukka School of Art. Continuing along the lines of the pioneering work of the late Uche Okeke’s aesthetic direction, he is the second generation of the contemporary Uli School of art that consciously, incorporates Igbo aesthetics in producing their art. He sees his art “as an analysis of Igbo drawing and painting that reveals space, line, pattern, brevity and spontaneity seen to be on the pillars on which the whole tradition rests. It is these same qualities that I strive, both intuitively and intellectually to assimilate in my work.”
He has the attributes of years of professional practice, in this watercolour and ink painting on paper titled In the Beginning, one can see the deft interplay of transparency and opacity, with controlled colour saturation, rendering an engaging image finalised with fine black intricate lines of an army general, a man in flowing robes, reminiscent of a Northern Nigerian traditional attire. While below, probably a bald headed fat cat oppressor politician puffing on a Cuban cigar, donning black sunglasses, trying to hide his corrupt nature. He blatantly lives ostentatiously, supresses the masses featured in the lower portion of the painting, and mismanages our economy. The vultures on the right hand side, wait patiently sensing the impending doom and abject poverty within which they exist, on the lookout for the dying about to become carrion for their sustenance.
Universally, human beings of every culture and persuasion thrive even depend on myths, fables, folklore to understand or explain the tangible and intangible. Socio-cultural beliefs often illustrated as conceptualised or abstract forces are ascribed to human behaviour, animals, deities or the supernatural. As form and function of such forces spring from the imagination, these are symbolically represented or produced, using techniques, colour and lines.
April 20, 2016
Forcible Love is part of the initial collection of the Iwalewahaus dating from 1981. This work is made in 1974 by the idiosyncratic Namibian artist, who is best known for his expressive narrative and graphic quality in etching, woodcuts and linocuts. His works depicts issues relevant to him, mostly expressing thoughts and feelings of political and social-historical situations.
Forcible Love is divided into two rectangular vertical parts. Both portions consist of text describing a situation of jealousy between himself and another artist involving a woman. Central to this rectangular, we see the woman and behind her, eight individuals pointing fingers into her direction. The smaller rectangular contains a self -portrait of the artist with a chisel and a linoleum block in the hands, surrounded by a palm-tree branch on each side. The linocut is mostly black with several cuts of white, outlining ten figures and text, patterns of additional cuts highlights further impressions of mid-tones of grey.
The figures to the far left, aggressively point their fingers. The woman’s face expresses sadness. The artist himself seems to be happy and content. The text insinuates inexplicable misfortune that could have befallen him had he fallen for the temptations. The woman is considered by John Muafangejo to be very beautiful though she has been forced by her boyfriend to derail the artist not to succeed or attend art school. Her suffering can be interpreted either for not have succeeded to seduce him or for have been forced against her will to seduce him.
John Muafangejo was born in 1943 and died in 1987. His work received recognition at international exhibitions already in 1969 and lasted until the time of his death. His formal education started late in life, only through the church he was able to attend tertiary art education in South Africa studying alongside and later taught by the well-known South African artist Azaria Mbatha, whose graphics are also part of the collections of Iwalewahaus.
March 28, 2017
Lilienthal, Adelheid: John Ndevasia Muafangejo (1943 - 1987): etchings, woodcuts, and linocuts from the collection of the Arts Association Heritage Trust. Windhoek: Arts Association Heritage Trust, 2010.
Framed by a green border, Atoinet Lubaki depicted a scene containing three men and a large bird. The figures move and observe the bird. Their western attire, elaborately detailed with pockets, buttons and folds, demonstrates the painter’s attention for the visual language and representation of colonial modernity.
Ationet Lubaki is one of the few known female Congolese artists from the early 20th century. Male artists dominate the repertoire of 20th century African modern art in part as the result of a colonial bias. Central African women often made body painting, textiles, or decorated house and compound walls. Few however, were invited to transition their work to paper, and female artistic activities were routinely regarded as inferior by colonial officials. Atoinet Lubaki and her husband Albert, who lived in Elisabethville (today’s Lubumbashi) in the mining-rich Katanga region, drew the attention of Belgian colonial official George Thiry because of the decoration on the exterior of their house. Thiry encouraged them to compose watercolor scenes on paper. Together with Gaston-Dénis Périer, a colleague in the ministry of colonies in Brussels, Thiry exhibited the work of the Lubakis in Brussels and other European capitals in the 1920s.
Although the Lubakis‘ work met with only limited success in Europe, Périer became a fervent supporter of what he called colonial ‘art vivant’ (living art), which he described as authentic in inspiration and conceptualization, but modern in form. He subsequently lobbied for the establishment of laws and measures for the protection of the cultural heritage of the colony.
Together with other works from the Lubakis and of Congolese painter Djilatendo, this painting is one of a small group of watercolors now located in the Iwalewahaus collection. Acquired from a Brussels art dealer, Ivan Dierickx, in the 1980’s, the works trace back to the collection of Périer, and were likely among the works exhibited in the 1920s.
Sarah Van Beurden
Ohio State University
August 28, 2016
At present-day, the 120.000 photographs in paper prints, negatives and slides integrating the Beier-Estate are at Iwalewahaus, in Bayreuth, being surveyed, digitized and readied for disclosure at the online database DEVA, before they go to their new home at the CBCIU in Oshogbo. Inside box 39, there is a mustard yellow A4 envelope on which is handwritten Lourenço Marques, Local architecture and Guedes. Inside, there are thirty-two paper prints of Ulli Beier‘s photographs with no dates recorded: all taken in Mozambique, all black and white with low contrast. Ten reproduce art and architecture works by architect-painter-sculptor Pancho Guedes, and one a Makonde helmet mask of Guedes‘ collection. All other photographs are of dwellings in the caniço of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), most of them focusing on paintings on the outer walls, depicting people, animals, plants, and decorative symbols and patterns — curiously, some of these representations recall others from Beier and Susanne Wenger‘s Abeokuta project.
This is most likely 1960. Beier is visiting Mozambique. Guedes takes him in at his hectic red house at Rua de Nevala. Beier gets to see Guedes‘ collections and artworks continuously in the making. Guedes tours Beier to dozens of his built architectural designs throughout Lourenço Marques. Lastly, the route leads them to the edges of the modern city of cement, into the city of reed. Here, people inhabit creative constructions, in shanties which were originally made out of reeds — caniço in Portuguese. While wandering around, they take pictures. Beier shoots a foreshortened view of a house with two empty metal buckets standing just ahead of it. A worn-down corrugated steel roof sticks out slightly from the main wall and offers a shy strip of shade to the whole. The front is fully cladded with some sort of poor plaster. There are carved lines in the smooth surface forming an accidental geometric pattern. Cracks are visible here and there. At the centre, a door is open. A young woman with a headscarf glances out. Only her head is visible. Static and absent, she is looking down to the diamond shape in the pavement defining the entrance.
Right now and far away, in Lisboa, at Guedes‘ photographic archives, there is a colour still of the very same house. The geometric shapes of the facade are white, blue and green. The strip of shade is more or less the same as in Beier‘s photograph.
José Luís Tavares
University of Porto
June 15, 2017
1966. Ink, gouache and varnish on paper.
A threatening, doglike, two-faced fable with a long tail is standing in front of a densely built village. The pairs of eyes of the human-like faces seem to look at each other, both mouths are opened and show parts of their teeth. Striking structures and patterns fill the body of the animal: peaks, squares, circles and semicircles determine individual surfaces, both within the body and in the background. The back of his fuselage is adorned with a checkerboard pattern in black and white on which another, red-sparkling pair of eyes can be seen. Jagged forms surround the body of the animal, tapering in different sizes and reminding of reptiles or dragons.
This is the king. (...) On his back is again a cat. In the background you can see the city of the king. It really means that some kings are like dogs or cats; They have this magic power, which they can use in negative or positive sense. It depends on what kind of heart they have. (Twins Seven-Seven)
Twins Seven-Seven started his international career in Nigeria in the 1960s, where he became a friend of Ulli and Georgina Beier at the Mbari Mbayo Club in Oshogbo in 1964. In the same year Twins Seven-Seven took part in a workshop led by Georgina Beier. Influenced by the novels of the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola and his tales of legendary creatures and magical worlds of Yoruba mythology, Twins produced his first works, including a series of four Devil's Dogs, two of which are still part of the Iwalewahaus Collection. The Devils's Dog can be seen as a parade example of his artistic oeuvre, his style and formal language. While the principles of proportions and perspective played a subordinate role for him, his unmistakable technique is characterized by his vivid pictorial language. Twins Seven-Seven (1944 - 2011) is considered one of the most influential representatives of the Oshogbo school.
Iwalewahaus August 2017
Beier, Ulli (Hg.). 1999. A dreaming life : an Autobiography of Twins Seven-Seven. Bayreuth African Studies 52: Bayreuth.
The Yoruba people of Western Nigeria have a strong sense of identity manifested in their cultural and religious practices. A central activity of Yoruba religion is the worship of the orishas – the traditional gods. The orishas include numerous divine beings with supernatural forces who simultaneously take shape in various forms and appearances. There is no hierarchy and they remain in harmony with nature. Most Yoruba towns had sacred groves in the past, areas of preserved nature for the orishas. Today the Sacred Groves of Oshogbo are such a natural conserved environment for the homes of the orishas, with shrines to worship and rituals to take place.
This hand-carved wood sculpture represents “Osonyin” and symbolizes the god of medicine. He impersonates the magic and mystical power of plants. Yoruba priests ask for his help to protect against mental and physical diseases.
“He operates the transformative eminence and potency in the herbal medicine. Osonyin is one-legged like the plant and is represented as a staff forged from iron, on whose top at least one bird attests to the tree spiritual affinity to the ethereal expanses. […] It must never lie on the ground since this would be the end of its positiveness and symbol-capacity to represent the living spirits of the plants: the plant that lies on the ground is dead.”
Significant features of the sculpture are both oversized eyes, protruding on each side of the face. These bulging eyes have become the trademark of Nigerian artist Buraimoh Gbadamosi (1936/38 – 2014), who created numerous wood and stone sculptures as a member of the “New Sacred Art” movement in Oshogbo. Susanne Wenger, the Austrian artist and founder, called “New Sacred Art” a modern art form in the ritual service of the traditional religion and philosophy of the orishas. Starting as a carpenter in the 1960’s Gbadamosi contributed with a group of other artists to the preservation of the Sacred Groves of Oshun-Oshogbo.
Osonyin is represented by an exemplary work of the modern “New Sacred Art” movement created for the Sacred Groves of Oshogbo. Iwalewahaus purchased the wood sculpture from the artist in 1988.
Universität Bayreuth, Iwalewahaus
Wenger, Susanne (1990): The Sacred Groves of Oshogbo. Wien: Kontrapunkt Verlag. p.61.
Beier, Ulli (1975): The Return of the Gods. The Sacred Art of Susanne Wenger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Probst, Peter (2011): Osogbo and the Art of Heritage. Monuments, Deities, and Money. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
"The career of Hezbon Owiti (...) is full of promise.", wrote Ulli Beier in 1968. Owiti was born in Central Nyanza / Kenya in 1946. He worked at the University of Ibadan, received a scholarship from the Fairfield Foundation, New York / USA in 1965 and was a resident of Sussex University / England in 1968. Owiti is an autodidact,
who taught himself artistic work with watercolour, pencil and clay. Like many others, the young Owiti could not live from his art. When he worked in Nairobi as a caretaker at the Chemichemi Cultural Center, he was discovered by
Mphalele was a South African writer living in Nigerian exile, who founded, together with Ulli Beier, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and others, the first Mbari Club in Ibadan. Mphalele obtained a Fairfield scholarship for Owiti that enabled him to travel to Nigeria. During his time in Oshogbo he produced prints and oil paintings, including the 1966 dated Lame Beggar. The atmosphere of the workshops and the other artists inspired Owiti, so he made oil paintings in vivid colors similar to those of others participants. His first exhibition ran in 1965 in the legendary Mbari Mbayo Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria.
The Lame Beggar is a high-format oil painting of the colors orange, red and blue. The yellowish frame surrounding the canvas seems as if he is slowly squeezing the beggar from head to toe. The man, who is supported on armpits, clothed with shorts and a torn shirt, has his head placed on the right shoulder and looks at the viewer with slightly hanging eyelids. His left leg is amputated under his knee. His right leg, as well as his right arm, indicate open, inflamed wounds. Although his remaining appearance is miserable, the man does not distort. His mouth is closed in neutral facial expression, which gives his expression a sense of practicality.
Agthe, Johanna: Wegzeichen – Kunst aus Ostafrika 1974 – 89. Frankfurt am Main: Museum für Völkerkunde.
Beier, Ulli: Contemporary Art in Africa. London: Mall Press, 1968. Kennedy, Jean: Between the Natural and Supernatural, in: New currents, ancient rivers: contemporary African artists in a generation of change. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. S. 143 – 154.
Okeke-Agulu, Chika: Art and Decolonization in twentieth-century Nigeria. Durham: Duke Press.