The Chosen Few: EMMANUEL TAKU
"The importance of capturing two figures in juxtaposition was to create a sense of consolidation, synergy and unity. This is emphasized through the anthropomorphic silhouettes created by the bodies engulfed in silkscreened fabric print."
In his new body of work, Emmanuel Taku (b. 1986) presents ethereal large-scale portraits which give form to a new vision of Black identity. Rendered in subtle tones and nuanced brushwork, the subjects' faces and hands appear almost luminous, projecting a sense of confidence and poise. Turning to the viewer with their gaze replaced by white light, the figures seem supernatural and futuristic, their faces mask-like. Describing his visual language as 'figurative surrealism', Taku gives his subjects a mythic, god-like appearance, resolutely challenging the historic modes of portraying Black individuals.
Standing in pairs, Taku's subjects come together in mutual support, in a kind of brotherhood or sisterhood, to face us with an elegantly coordinated address. The sense of unity between the figures is further exacerbated by the shared patterns of striking intricacy and crispness, which form their clothing. Silkscreened on to the surface of the work, these patterns reflect the artist's longstanding passion for textiles and prints passed on to him by his mother. Referencing an important role, which patterned fabrics have historically played in forming the identity of African nations, Taku also expresses a broader, universal and uplifting message of humanity and inclusion: "I want [the viewers] to feel that we are one people. It doesn't matter whether the person is black or white. We are connected and anything is possible when we are together."
Enveloped in a light shadow-like contour, the figures seem cut-out and pasted against a sheer monochrome ground. Taku's strategy here evokes the installation Naming the Money (2004) by Lubaina Himid, in which the painted cut-out figures form a kind of theatre set, surrounding the viewer to activate and perform the lost histories of Black individuals. In Taku's paintings, this technique similarly contributes to the sense of theatrical and performative, powerfully projected by his subjects. Often rendered on soft unstretched mesh or canvas and hung on plywood beams, the paintings physically unfold the image, conjuring a stage-like environment and underscoring the sense of a direct address to the viewer.
Collaging the fragments of newspaper texts directly on to the figures' skin, Taku presents a poignant meditation on the political subtext of Black portraiture. In Brothers in White (2020), the hands and face of the protagonist are featuring such words as 'SEE', 'SKIN', 'MASK', rendered in small lettering of the magazine print. The artist therefore invites the viewer to take a closer look at his subjects, in both a figurative and literal sense. For Taku, language is inextricably linked with identity: "I believe that humans beings are created with words. A word can make somebody motivated or discouraged. For every human being, how we think, how we talk depends on the words that we have received." Importing the written fragments of contemporary culture, the artist presents the black skin as a contested, politicised space, calling to the revision of the ways in which it has been represented and read in the past.
As the artist writes, "This body of work was inspired by British-Ghanaian artist John Akomfrah's discussion on his perceptions as child that museums presenting works by J. M. W. Turner or John Constable were 'Temples of Whiteness.' This notion stuck with me and drove me to aspire for my own 'Temple of Blackness,' one that would capture Black people as demi-gods, or heroes. In depicting these Black bodies as abstract, analogous shapes, all-the-more united by their silkscreen casts, I seek to reclaim their anecdotal, objectified representation, instead affirming a shared, universal and strong Black identity."
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Emmanuel TakuFour Brothers in White, 2021acrylic on canvas200.5 x 235.5 cm
79 x 92 3/4 in
Emmanuel TakuTwo Brothers in Teal, 2021acrylic on canvas84 1/2 x 57 1/4 in
214.5 x 145.5 cm
Emmanuel TakuAmethyst Sister’s Keeper, 2021acrylic on canvas200 x 200 cm
78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in
Emmanuel TakuSisters In Green Of Sacred Heart, 2021acrylic on canvas200 x 200 cm
78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in
Emmanuel TakuBeige Clergy Brothers, 2021acrylic on canvas200 x 190 cm
78 3/4 x 74 3/4 in
Emmanuel TakuWrestling Brothers In Pink, 2021acrylic on canvas200 x 200 cm
78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in
Emmanuel TakuGo-Go Sisters In Red, 2021acrylic on canvas200 x 314 cm
78 3/4 x 123 5/8 in
Emmanuel TakuLilac Sisters In Veil, 2021acrylic on canvas136 x 95 cm
53 1/2 x 37 3/8 in
Emmanuel TakuOrange Sister’s Keeper, 2021acrylic on canvas200 x 127 cm
78 3/4 x 50 in
Emmanuel TakuTeal Sister’s Keeper, 2021acrylic on canvas138 x 200 cm
54 3/8 x 78 3/4 in
Emmanuel TakuThe Three Nuns, 2021acrylic on canvas140 x 108 cm
55 1/8 x 42 1/2 in
Emmanuel TakuYellow Sister’s Keeper, 2021acrylic on canvas127 x 200 cm
50 x 78 3/4 in