With powerful, sweeping gestural movements, and evoking a constantly changing theatrical set in the progression of canvasses on display, Asanda Kupa’s exhibition powerfully interrogates the way knowledge is constructed and argues that we have to unlearn practices and conventions of the past in order to move forward. Forward-movement, dynamism and vitality have always been a characteristic of Kupa’s work, with his gripping, even chaotic, compositions evoking protest, movement and surging figures.
This series of images is something of a departure, perhaps, in that we are consistently presented with tableaux portraying a group of figures represented individually and on the same lateral plane as they relate to each other. Nevertheless the dynamic quality and energy for which he is so well known is plain to see.
In these works the human subjects are grounded – quite literally – but are engaged in actions and interactions that seem to speak of something that is about to happen and is projected into the next moment. This technique creates a tension and sense of suspense in the viewer: a viewer who always seems to take the same position in relation to the action that unfolds in each successive painting.
It seems as if Kupa is presenting us with set-pieces and our decisions and actions in relation to them may be as important as what he has constructed on the canvas. I think his system of knowledge is predicated on a rigorous demand that we ‘find out for ourselves’ rather than passively accept what we are told. Learning – and unlearning – demands doing for this artist, I would offer.
While we cannot erase our past, we are not beholden or imprisoned by it; we can shift our beliefs, assumptions and ingrained ways of doing things or thinking in moving on through life’s journey. Thus, I think this is a very timely and insightful body of work.
As the world seems to be in greater flux and insecurity than ever before, we perhaps need to find new ways and new techniques to respond: those of the past simply will not work. Unlearning then, is a vitally important strategy for dealing with change and responding creatively and constructively to the world around us.
Over and over again there is the portrayal or intimation of a bird in flight. This classic symbol in art of spiritual enlightenment, when juxtaposed with the human figure, can perhaps be seen to imply a fresh beginning and a new way of being for us as viewers as well as for the subjects portrayed: perhaps the artist is hinting to us that in order to be free – to soar above our everyday concerns – we need to radically change our way of doing things.
Asanda Kupa has created a series of paintings that offer hope and a practical solution to the troubles that beset today; in my view he does this by demanding that we look at tomorrow and the possibilities that it will bring, if we only let it.