Makemba Kunle’s tenth solo exhibition of oil paintings, entitled Jouvay Lassuppa, opened on November 18 at the Studio 66 Art Gallery, 66 Sixth Street, Barataria. Kunle explains that the title comes from a vision a friend shared with him.
“My friend, who was somewhere in Europe, had a vision in which the heavens opened and there were people having a big dinner dressed in costume, in the sky. I tried to paint that and it turned out to be a J’Ouvert band. So I called that painting and the exhibition Jouvay Lassuppa. I localised and creolised the vision by changing the spelling of the words ‘last supper’,” says Kunle who sees the title piece of the show as “setting a tone of revelling in the here and now.”
Kunle’s paintings are a revelry of colour and marks—dots and dashes among other strokes—which demand that the viewer step back and forth, observing each piece both from a distance and up close in order to discern individual figures or elements. Each piece appears to be one giant form with no one part being seemingly distinct, emphasised or separated from other parts of the painting.
Everything appears to flow freely together and connect with each other. The viewer must look intently to discover features that the artist has incorporated into the work. Kunle attributes this aesthetic of freedom and connectivity to what he calls a “Carnival method” of painting: “A Carnival method,” says Kunle, “is painting with a certain level of freedom, which I feel we get in Carnival. I am not talking about the superficial Carnival. Not the ‘Carnival is colour’. Not the jump-up but the free-up. Carnival is where we get closest to freedom.
“Carnival is where you can find yourself whether European, African, East Indian, Chinese or whatever. In Carnival we are all connected. We tend to see things as distinct from each other but in truth and in fact all of us are one. That is the Carnival I am talking about. Therefore images within my paintings are connected and all of the paintings are connected to each other.”
Kunle confounds the viewer’s capacity for easy spatial perception by playing with positive and negative spaces in each painting. Positive space is the image or the subject that is intended as the focus of the artwork while negative space is that space around what the artists wants us to see. Kunle masterfully manipulates these two spaces so that the viewer’s eyes are not quite sure where to look. “That is where I dwell,” Kunle observes, “in between those two spaces like the calypsonian with double entendre.”
His exhibition offers us a presentation in which we become not only situated in a location between positive and negative spaces but we also find ourselves in a J’Ouvert space of liberty and unity—that bewitching space between night and daybreak—where it is possible to be one with each other and have a union with the spirit realm.
In a number of Kunle’s paintings a female spirit, who the artist refers to as “joy,” becomes perceptible if we look closely. In the J’Ouvert space that his work creates, we can connect with that spirit and revel in her energy. Other elements of J’Ouvert can be found in this exhibition. “J’Ouvert involves taking what you have, recycling and making a costume,” Kunle explains.
In the display of his work, paintings are framed with yellow rope and a number of pieces are set against walls made of wire and old plastic bottles. “This is our nation’s 50th anniversary of independence and still we are allowing Europe and North America to tell us what is fine art and that we must frame it in a certain way, Kunle insists.
Kunle’s body of work and its display offer us an opportunity to witness a freedom of the imagination but even in that freedom there is a careful attention to precision. His paintings do not present a haphazard and chaotic execution of brushstrokes and the creative formats chosen for exhibiting the work are not random. Everything, including the tiniest dot of paint, has been done with much thought for Kunle acknowledges that “even in freedom there is a discipline.”
Kunle’s exhibition Jouvay Lassuppa runs until December 9 at the Studio 66 Art Gallery, which is open daily from 10 am-6 pm. For further information, call 361-9375.