Kudzanai-violet Hwami When You Need Letters for Your Skin
Victoria Miro, London 3 September – 6 November
Kudzanai-violet Hwami presents a group of nine figurative paintings made up of collaged, fragmented canvases in which thick paint creates texture and solid colour is used boldly. It’s a body of work concerned with identity, postinternet – how to correlate lives predominantly lived in pixels with painting. Travellers 1, 2 and 3 (all works 2021) are primarily composed of Black men and a woman painted in tones of grey, backgrounded by the immediately identifiable interface of a Zoom meeting. The main figures are depicted in a painterly mode, while the faces in the background are rendered photographically, peering out at the figure (and viewer) with expressions of contemplation, passivity and scrutiny. Referring to the prevalence of digital communication accelerated since -19, some paintings parallel the screen itself. In Innnspirit-ed two male figures fragment and the canvas appears to break down into coloured squares, pixelating like a glitching screen. A potted banana plant
– a recurring motif – appears floating in the foreground of the canvas, in front of the human figures in three separate paintings, sometimes skewed and sideways. Its symbolism remains ambiguous, not obviously suggestive of religious or classical iconography, but its continuous presence here grants it a spiritual undertone the artist can’t seem to shake.
This work is a departure in content from Hwami’s solo exhibition at London’s Gasworks in 2019, which traversed her own roots in Zimbabwe and South Africa and her subsequent migration to the . Here, significance is aorded to the realm of the artist’s interiority. But these aren’t images of calm meditation; they depict an interior struggle that is tumultuous and disrupted. In the largest work on display, You are killing my spirit, a black female figure reclines across a bed. Behind the bed, elongated pink faces of children, eerily depicted in paint like a photographic negative, can be made out, leering at the figure. In Expiation another female figure pulls her top up, exposing her breasts. With her head tilted upwards, her face is obscured, while black-and-white photographic printouts of faces are pasted into the canvas, their eyes crossed out. Hwami’s female subjects, at least, portray an uneasiness with their own selood and with being watched. This is juxtaposed with the male nude figures in Virtue Sermon, who are self-possessed and dominantly stare down the viewer. Hwami’s approach to figuration engages with the changes in our relationship to digital culture, and in doing so, these paintings revel in the complex, knotty and mutable nature of contemporary life.