If Kerry James Marshall is justly celebrated as a pioneering figure in Black Portraiture, it is because he utilises the flatness of Pop Art to examine the objectification of the black body, its seeming invisibility and threat. Like Toni Morrison, Marshall chooses to play in the dark. Her objective? ‘To free up the language’ whereby ‘racially informed and determined chains’ are predictably employed in a manner sinister and lazy. Black Portraiture is never innocent. It is what one does with the codes for blackness, that ensures the significance and value of an artist or dealership.

Eclectica is a South African based gallery, run by Shamiela Tyer, with a creative stable that spans the Arab World and Sub-Saharan Africa. Its remit comprises abstraction and figuration, its objective – to affirm the rich complexity of African aesthetics which, even today, remains poorly understood, prejudicially framed, exploited by an art economy that, after Morrison, remains extractive, sinister and lazy.

On this occasion, Eclectica presents African portraiture , by renowned artist from the African continent , for whom Marshall is a powerful influence, as is the photographer Zanele Muholi. This because both – paradoxically – amplify the depthlessness of blackness and its flat objectification. The camera, we now know, failed to honour black pigmentation. Technology, never neutral, proved as irrepressibly dismissive of, or resistant to, the complexity of black skin. Through a densification of the colour black, with little regard to the subtleties of tonal variation, Marshall and Muholi chose to foreground this exaggerated voiding. This decision – nothing short of revolutionary – amplified the socio-political and cultural complexity of seeing. In the artist paintings this complexity resurfaces. By foregoing mimesis – the putative transparency and objectivity of the ‘Real’ – in favour of the fantastical – ‘Black Magic’ – Were signals the ongoing decision to play in the dark.

Chiaroscuro – the Renaissance poetics of light and dark, brilliantly executed by Caravaggio – is replaced by a deliberate painterly flatness – a graphic dissimulation of the iconicity, and thus the rudimentarily auratic nature of black life – a life subsumed by mystique, fascination and dread, denied psychological depth, whose currency, tragically, controversially, remains in its intangibility-yet-objectification.

This paradox is key to the current marketisation of the black body. The artist understands this well. The colours used are bold, the presentation of black bodies is immediate, full-frontal, devoid of the psychology typically assigned to portraiture – what a being might embody, the secrets harboured. This is because the artist chooses to cut out blackness instead of sinking it into a greater historical sump. The trigger for this decision? Pop Art.

The question persists: Are the artist paintings merely decorative, seduced by iconicity and bold colour? On the contrary. Such a reading fails to grasp a state of play designed to undo a ‘language’ defined by ‘racially informed and determined chains’. For the artist – after Homi Bhabha and Toni Morrison – mimicry is a form of subversion. The strategy is not deliberate. Rather, like Marshall and Muholi, the artist embraces objectification in the instant that he cancels it out. The directness of his subjects’ gaze is confounded by the palpability-yet-inexistence of black flesh – their invisibility. Now you see me, now you don’t.

Adesola Yusuf

Abdulrahman Adesola Yusuf (Arclight) born in 1997 is a multidimensional artist from Lagos, Nigeria. Adesola graduated from yaba college of technology with a HND in Graphic design. He works on and with different mediums within the range of digital & physical. The visual expressive form of his works takes inspiration from highly detailed renaissance art, the Baroque and Rococo overly ornate art movement to modern minimalist, pop & internet art.

ADESOLA YUSUF | Getting ready for work, 2022 | Eclectica Contemporary | Art Exhibition | Cape Town

ADESOLA YUSUF | Getting ready for work, 2022, Mixed media, 100 × 74 cm

Olamide Ogunade

Born in 1996, Olamide Ogunade is a graduate of Fine Art at the Yaba College of Technology and draws inspiration from personal experiences and happenings in society, which promotes the understanding of black identity. His oeuvre cuts across various mediums including, acrylic and oil paint, charcoal, and pencil. He keeps a record of the events, cultural values, and norms of his community. The subjects are shown in temporary perspectives, like bubbles, which appear and disappear into the air.

Come to me, 2022 Acrylic and charcoal on canvas 72 × 72 cm

Come to me, 2022

Acrylic and charcoal on canvas

72 × 72 cm

Reminisce, 2022 Acrylic and charcoal on canvas 76 × 76 cm

Reminisce, 2022

Acrylic and charcoal on canvas

76 × 76 cm

Kelani Fatai

With exhibitions at home and abroad, Kelani Fatai is an emerging artist from the contemporary Nigerian art scene. Fatai studied at the prestigious Yaba College of Technology in Lagos. Kelani draws his inspiration and creativity from nature and the environment around him, and he doesn’t fail to interpret their meanings in his paintings. He is a versatile impressionist and realist and usually creates his art according to the story conjured in his mind.

Royal Outing II, 2022 Acrylic and oil on canvas. 152.4 × 213.4 cm| Eclectica contemporary | Art gallery | Cape Town

Royal Outing II, 2022

Acrylic and oil on canvas.

152.4 × 213.4 cm

Richie Madyira

Madyira (1989) began his career with a diploma from the National Gallery of Zimbabwe Visual Arts Studio in 2007. The colour selections in Madyira’s works don’t fully represent the real world, but are surprising and often juxtaposed in order to form an ironic harmony. These ‘undecided’ colours are often used to depict the internal conflict one encounters when practicing religion without selfevaluation and purpose.

Hustler must survive , 2022, Oil on Canvas, 100 × 100 cm | Eclectica contemporary | Art gallery | Cape Town

Hustler must survive , 2022, Oil on Canvas, 100 × 100 cm

Mpho Feni

Mpho Feni (1995) was born and raised in Cape Town. His talent was discovered by an early age by one of his primary school teachers in Qingqa-Mntwana primary. His inspiration comes from his cultural heritage, family, friends and daily interactions with his peers. His experiences, events and identity is explored through his paintings.

Family Celebration, 2022 Acrylic on canvas 100 x 130 cm | Eclectica contemporary | Art gallery | Cape Town

Azeez Salami

Salami Azeez Oladimeji was born in February 1993, in Lagos, Nigeria. Upon completion of his O level, he proceeded to Yaba College of technology to study Art; there he bagged a Diploma in Fine Art. He was mentored by Opedun Damilola. Azeez uses various mediums like oil and pastel, he constantly experiments with different mediums to create works. He is influenced by his immediate environment, lifestyle, and experiences of people around him.

Sit with me, 2022 Acrylic on Canvas 120 × 150 cm| Eclectica Contemporary | Art Exhibition | Cape Town

Sit with me, 2022

Acrylic on Canvas

120 × 150 cm