“Dreaming of Identity” at London’s JD Malat Gallery marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in the U.K.
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About the Artist: Artist Kojo Marfo’s work is deeply informed by his Ghanaian identity. After all, his first interest in art came through the traditional Akan artifacts, sculptures, and carvings that surrounded him in his childhood. These influences remain vital to Marfo’s work today, with his brilliantly colorful paintings populated by distinctive figures that draw from the forms of Akan fertility dolls. “Dreaming of Identity” at London’s J.D. Malat Gallery will mark Marfo’s debut solo exhibition in the U.K. with 15 new paintings made over the past year (Marfo has lived in the U.K. since 1999.) What’s more, the exhibition marks one year since gallery founder Jean-David Malat discovered Marfo’s work through an open-call exhibition, titled “Isolation Mastered,” an effort to support aspiring artists during lockdown.
Why We Like It: Marfo’s paintings are rich with cross-cultural references. Though brimming with vibrant colors and textural patterns, the artist sees his work as a tool for societal connection rather than simply a means to convey beauty. Nine new paintings included in the exhibition are each titled “Strangers”—works that are based on the artist’s own brief encounters with Londoners. Six more large-scale figurative paintings depict clusters of families with animals often engaged in social situations. These works, which brim with Marfo’s keen observations of the different people and cultures he has encountered, find links between Akan traditions and his experiences in the West. In an essay accompanying the exhibition, David Bellingham of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art notes the many cross-cultural artistic influences that coalesce in Marfo’s work, including references to artists ranging from Zdzisław Beksiński to Wifredo Lam and even Pablo Picasso. Marfo’s work revitalizes and reimagines these references with joyful exuberance.
According to the Artist: “Rather than painting likenesses of real people, my paintings are focused on figures from my dreams and childhood memories so that I can create characters removed from reality. I paint in this way, not only to pay respect to the visual memories of my childhood that were rooted in Akan cultural images, but also because I wanted the themes explored in the paintings to be more accessible to the viewer. In our world reality breathes life to so many divisions. We need an un-reality to emphasize the universality of our human desires, needs, and fears and create an environment where we can better see that what drives us is what drives all humans. I feel that this separation from reality is needed to tackle our uncomfortable social, cultural and political realities and bond through our universal human experiences.”