First Johannesburg solo exhibition


Red Flag, 1993, oil on board, 59 x 51 cm

Collection: Robert Loder

This painting was included in a mini-one person show of my work curated by Ricky Burnet and part of a larger exhibition, Persons and Pictures, Newtown Galleries, Johannesburg, 27 September -10 November 1995. (Exh. cat. pp. 9, 46-47, 58).

Extract from “….. us blacks …..” Self-contruction and the Politics of Modernism by Ivor Powell,

(1995) in Persons and Pictures, Newtown Galleries, pp. 12-25:


In bringing these two references together Kwami is doing something that is ambiguous and, on one level at least, subversive of the western art discourse. When Picasso and Brancusi and the Europeans borrowed from African Art, they were doing something that was nevertheless located inside the history of Western art. Inside their work the African icons no longer meant the same things that they did in their original context. But in Kwami’s appropriation, the final nature of the work remains ambiguous. Is he a Western-trained artist, appropriating the Asante design within the discourse of Modernist art? Or is he as an African appropriating the look of Mondrian within a specifically African context?

I ask these questions merely rhetorically of course. The point is precisely that in the contemporary context, the African modernist is precisely that: irreducibly African and irreducibly modernist. Hence the abstracts of Kwami speak as eloquently of the organic lines and spaces of west African architecture as they do of the formal values associated in modernism with the two-dimensional canvas. The point is that according to the tenets of modernist art, that are emblematic of the artist’s consciousness and that consciousness, like that of Africa in general is a seamless amalgam of Western and African elements. In Kwami’s happy phrase: the continuing traditions of African art.

Ivor Powell


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