From striking nudes to familial scenes, U.K.-based artist Kudzanai-Violet Hwami's paintings present a personal vision of Southern African and diasporic life derived from collages of found and family images.Read More
Born in Gutu, Zimbabwe, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami spent ages nine to seventeen in South Africa. Moving to the U.K. in 2008 with her mother, brother, and sister, Hwami settled in London, where she now lives and works. Kudzanai-Violet Hwami graduated from Wimbledon College of Arts, London in 2016 with a BFA in Painting. Her earlier contemporary artworks lean towards satire, such as Eve on an apple bottom (2016), an image of a nude Black woman covered in caution tape. Her work since has progressively shifted away from overtly political themes.
Quick to gain critical attention, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami held her first major solo show in 2017 at Tyburn Gallery. Two years later, she became one the youngest artist ever to present at the 38th Venice Biennale when she represented Zimbabwe. Returning to her studies, Hwami completed an MFA at The Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University in 2021.
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami's oil paintings raise questions about representation, sexuality, gender, diaspora, and identity. She joins the ranks of artists like Kerry James Marshall, Henry Taylor, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, who are revitalising and reconfiguring the figurative genre to represent the Black body.
The Black body has transitioned in Kudzanai-Violet Hwami's work from an object of exploration to something more personal. In conversation with Michael Armitage, Hwami explains, 'at the start, I wasn't painting to look into my family; it was much more about looking at black bodies as objects, and I questioned that a little bit.'
Hwami's artwork includes bold nudes, self-portraits and images of relatives. These large-scale paintings are brightly coloured and mix elements of figuration and abstraction.
The artist describes many of her nude paintings as self-portraits. Even if they appear to be different people, they present a self-image she aspires to, standing in as a comfortable alternative to altering her own physical body.
Hwami's paintings feature fictive scenes in the sense that they do not come from one original subject. Collapsing time, geography, and space, the artist begins a painting by creating a collage from a myriad of visual sources of personal significance. This collaged imagery forms the basis of what she will paint. Sources for these collages include Hwami's family photographs and found imagery from online and archival collections. Through works like Let Us Now Praise the Children (2017), Hwami uses family portraits to present a personal vision of southern Africa.
Online imagery too relates to the artist's upbringing. An introvert, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami's South African and U.K. diasporic experience played out online, where she spent a great deal of her time.
In 2019, seeking to reconnect with her country of origin, Hwami travelled to Zimbabwe, and spent a month at an artist-run space outside Harare. Kudzanai-Violet Hwami's show at Gasworks in London, titled (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1 (2019) presents the artistic outcome of the trip. Referencing the distance and route between her hometown in Zimbabwe and London, the show explores themes of diaspora.
In Medicine man (2019), the titular healer's face is cropped by the edge of the canvas, creating a sense of estrangement—a reflection of the artist's own sense of isolation and otherness, created by time and the distance from in the community she came from.
ExhibitionsKudzanai-Violet Hwami's solo exhibitions include Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1, Gasworks, London (2019); If You Keep Going South You'll Meet Yourself, Tyburn Gallery, London (2017); and We Made You Nations & Tribes, Corn Exchange, Manchester (2013).
Hwami's group exhibitions include The Power of My Hands, Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris, Paris (2021); Five Bhobh — Painting at the End of an Era, Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town (2018); Discoloured Margins, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare (2017); RSA Open Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh (2016); and ganda'Nga: weeping clay pot / Guest Project Africa Exhibition, Shonibare Studios, London (2014).
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami's Instagram can be found here.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021
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