Balasz Takac for Widewalls
The new wave of African artists exploring figuration is described by many as the (West) African Renaissance. This term mostly refers to a group of Ghanaian artists who sparked international fame with their portraits of African men and women influenced by the works of American artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley, and Henry Taylor.
The representative of this Renaissance whose captivating paintings offer another view on the Black Beauty is Kwesi Botchway. Through his art practice, he seeks to elevate the state of being of his people to a higher level while managing to critically examine current art history without neglecting its achievements. This month, his latest body of work will be presented in a solo exhibition titled Rumors of Blackness at Maruani Mercier gallery in Brussels.
The Figuration of Kwesi Botchway
Kwesi Botchway's portraits are a form of critical interpretation of white, Western portraiture tradition. However, unlike the painters of this tradition, who were commissioned by the wealthy to produce their portraits, the Ghanaian artist depicts ordinary people in a dignified manner. Botchway is the founder of the WorldFaze Art Studio located in the city of Nima, the artist’s birthplace, which had quite an impact on the way he represents contemporary life.
His paintings tend to raise questions for white people; Botchway aims to stimulate a personal interpretation and get the viewer both physically and emotionally invested in the subject's story. Initially, Kwesi Botchway painted in a more photorealistic style, but, inspired by the Impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh, Émile Bernard, and Claude Monet, the artist developed the African version of the movement titled Afro-Impressionism.
Kwesi Botchway at MARUANI MERCIER
The upcoming exhibition will highlight new portraits depicting female subjects that are based on the models from his environment, fictional models, or the ones found in the magazines. These works serve as a tribute to black women stating that Black Women Matter, as well as a tool for self-acceptance and self-confidence.
The female subjects are set against monochrome backgroundsallowing them to take over the viewer and acquire more compassion. The artist is portraying identifiable black women while highlighting their importance, their role, their beauty, and their soul. The women gaze straight at the viewer for example in the painting Showy; the painter adorns them with mysterious allure as in the painting Eyeing the Gossiper. The artist rendered them seductive by coloring their eyes and their lower lip orange, while placing attention to their earrings. By using vibrant colors, Botchway accentuates the richness of African culture. These works show appreciation of his environment and his community, and serve as a nod to his African origin.