t is the tone of Were’s paintings that generate this affect – this sense that one is in the midst of an inscrutable moment. His palette is restrained, his blocking planar – Were loves the feeling of smooth uniform surfaces, because they resist disquiet, and because they allow the central figure, or figures, in his paintings to garner our undistracted attention. But what do we see, when we look at a Were portrait? Is it the Socratic ‘examined life’? I think not. Because what Were is emphatically disinterested in is the Ego, the assumption that one can truly ‘know’ oneself. This Socratic ideal, which resurfaces in the Enlightenment in the belief systems of Kant (know thyself) and Descartes (I think; therefore I am), are anathema to Were, for whom it is the miraculous wonder of life, the accidental intimacies, the subtle revelations, which are generated in a beatific and quiet state, that matters far more. It is ‘the boundaries that feelings can cross and reach’ that distinguishes the energy field of his paintings.
Given this historical moment, in which Black Portraiture is proving a defining focus, Nedia Were’s task is not to be its trumpeter or clarion caller, but, from within the shades, a more quiet and mysteriously veiled terrain, to allow for a greater introspection and reflection. Black Art, after all, is not a genre, or a commodity, but an infinitely complex and varied expression of a time of radical revision. Throughout Western art history, prior to this moment, the black body has been largely erased, or shunted to the side-lines, as a bit-player or extra in a narrative in which white mythology and power has assumed centre-stage. What Were’s paintings remind us of, subtly, is precisely this gloaming and overcast condition of black life, its residual and partial and fleeting presence. His paintings are a veiled commentary on the excision of black life, and, more potently, its new-found presence and presencing. Because, of course, Nedia Were does not objectify his subjects. Instead, he allows them an enigmatic zone, a ‘zone’ which Frantz Fanon described as ‘occult’ and ‘unstable’, a zone, impossible to triangulate, where ‘the people dwell’.
My point? That Nedia Were’s anthem to love and human connectivity is as virtual as it is historical. It places the black body at the centre of two realms in which it has, in the Western world, been excluded, which he then subtly counters with his own mysteriously deft and even occult corrective.