Self-Esteem for Girls
07.09.17 – 11.09.17
FNB Joburg Art Fair 2017
Self-Esteem for Girls is a new body of work by Kenyan painter Chemu Ng’ok. With an express focus on the role of gender, this project spotlights the contentious narrative of indigenous tradition versus western modernity and emphasises the reflexive nature of societal conventions imposed on girls.
When we talk about feminism, particularly feminism in art, there is often the suspicion of a feverish attempt at intersectionality, a bracing for the impact of thinly veiled tropes. Fortunately, Self-Esteem for Girls leaves these expectations unsatisfied.
Unashamedly expressive and vulnerable, Ng’ok shifts the conversation from the body-politic to emotion. With works like Transference, Dreamscape, Boundaries and Reflections, Ng’ok takes human experience, whether individual or collective, and expertly conveys it into the realm of the allegorical. The title Dreamscape is particularly evocative of her practice, each painting appearing as if it were a vision transferred through automatic painting to the canvas, an almost involuntary expression. In this realm of Ng’ok’s making – half conscious, half unconscious – bodies and walls and worlds are equally permeable. Nebulous, almost spectral figures occupy space, sometimes as silhouettes, sometimes as effigies, their supernumerary limbs, bodies and faces blurring together.
These are artful, sentient soliloquies that seem to master the elements whilst simultaneously immersed in them. There is an unmistakable and strangely mundane force that runs through Ng’ok’s paintings, prompting the figures within them to reach towards one another, to curl around and into one another: the affective energy that underlies human relationships.
Drawing inspiration from her own experience and oscillations between the rational and irrational, the conscious and unconscious, as well as the scientific and superstitious. Ng’ok devotes her practice to the investigation of these ‘dynamic spaces between relationships’. By unfolding dialogues that combine dream and reality as well as imagination and truth, the paintings of this young artist open up a space of enquiry by creating a platform for the consideration of expectations that are placed upon girls today.
Ng’ok’s fluid, rhapsodic canvases are a call to summon the courage for vulnerability.
Chemu Ng’ok will complete her Master of Fine Arts Degree at Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, South Africa in 2017. She participated in the Popty International Artists’ Workshop in 2015 at the Penquoit Centre in Wales, UK and was a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s Visual and Performing Arts of Africa Masters Bursary. Notable exhibitions include: Speaking Back, alongside renowned international female artists like Kara Walker, Candice Breitz and Ellen Gallagher, in Cape Town, South Africa during 2015; and African Voices exhibition at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare, Zimbabwe in 2017.