Studio Ekwe’s Ajarb Bernard Ategwa
Peres Projects is proud to present Studio Ekwe’s, Ajarb Bernard Ategwa’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. The exhibition consists of a new series of portrait based works and the title of the exhibition references the photo studio beside the house that the artist grew up in. The portraits in this exhibition straddle two temporalities – referencing the black and white studio portraiture popular across countries in post-independence Africa, as well as a contemporary selfie culture.
In both cases, the camera that Ategwa imagines is a technology that marks ascendance, status, abundance. The artist demonstrates that to pose for a camera is to control your own image, to know what part of yourself to project, to know what to be proud of. That celebratory energy is channeled by Ategwa through these new paintings. The documentation of a life, is also to be seen. Evident in these portraits is the post-colonial shift away from the ethnographic view of “Africa”, towards a reclamation of the camera as a tool for the affirmation of the self.
The medium of portraiture is being rapidly reshaped by new forms of distribution and technologies, which Ategwa engages and reflects on – referencing these global social media platforms in the titles of the works. In the canvases that comprise this exhibition, Ategwa’s background in billboard painting is apparent. The action of the painting occurs across one field and depth is flattened – prioritizing the immediate; the subject. On this plane, the painter’s lines are given weight, creating shapes, frames and patterns that are reminiscent both of the colorful textiles that the west so often conflates with “Africa”, as well as the traditional beading and weaving of the Bamileke kingdom of which Ategwa is a descendent.
Implicit in all these works is a tension that runs throughout Ategwa’s practice – between technology and the hand. In these new works, the artist experiments with techniques that resemble watercolor – effectively surrendering control over to the paint, rather than leading with the brush (which we see in the lines that make up the rest of the canvas). The artist uses this technique for the bodies of his subjects, obscuring any information we may expect to gather from what remains naked. In doing so, Ategwa sidesteps the types of disclosure that we have come to expect and demand from those who we scroll past.
Studio Ekwe’s constructs an image of Cameroon – of Cameroonian people through the gaze of a West-Cameroonian artist. This view is complicated, tainted by the sight of its own image constructed by a western gaze – a dialectic of historical African aesthetics and Western influences.
Ajarb Bernard Ategwa’s (b.1988, CM) work explores the fast changing urban landscape in his native Cameroon. The large format of Ategwa’s paintings mimic the scale of cityscapes and public spaces, while his vivid color palette and graphic style speak the language of advertising familiar to inhabitants of Douala, Cameroon’s largest city and economic capital. Ategwa’s painting style is based on complex line drawings on canvas, which are executed free-hand. They imply a movement and momentum reflective of his rapidly transforming city. Recent solo-exhibitions include Peres Projects, Berlin; Espace Doual’art, Douala; and Jack Bell Gallery, London.