Kojo Marfo, “Keeper #1” (2022), acrylic on canvas, 66 7/8 x 57 1/8 inches (all images courtesy Kojo Marfo and JD Mallat Gallery)
Kojo Marfo’s figures silently scream. It’s in the eyes. They’re the focal point in each portrait. The pupil and iris are indistinguishable, and lines fall from the lids like tears. Though it’s unclear whether they register shock, fear, loss, or a combination of the three, they have an uncanny quality. Generating that unease might be the point of Marfo’s pop-up solo exhibition Gatekeepers of Heritage.
On view at JD Malat’s pop-up space at the High Line Nine Galleries in collaboration through June 4, the artist’s eight-painting US debut visualizes the cracks in polite society. In the 2021 show, Dreaming of Identity, in London he explored introspection and absurdity in domestic life, especially during a global pandemic, when many folks had time to scrutinize themselves or their families. Living in isolation some people found it harder than others to maintain the facade of a functional family unit. Marfo manifests these cracks in composure in his recent works. In “Stranger, #12” (2022), it’s hard to tell where the mask around the eyes begins and ends. Is the white hidden by beige skin and plum oblong lips, or is the beige skin covered with white paint?