Artist’s wall hanging get space in UK, US galleriesFriday May 28 2021
Coincidentally, Maliza Kiasuwa has two solo exhibitions going on simultaneously, one in London, the other in Washington DC. Meanwhile, she still has her art at Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi where the curator of Morton Fine Art Gallery, Amy Morton is giving the Belgian-Congolese artist her first Washington DC solo show from June 2 to 22.
“Amy found my work first on Instagram, which led her to Circle Art,” recalls Maliza who has had shows at Circle gallery and Alliance Francaise since she first came to Kenya with her family in early 2013.
Speaking from her farm in Naivasha where she has been fortunate to live through the Covid-19 lockdown amidst the quiet of nature, Maliza says she has pondered many things this past year, everything from the virus, racism, to pandemic fears.
The result has been a rich outpouring of artworks, 16 of which are in London at her Ancestry exhibition at the Sulger-Buel Gallery, and 21 in the Morton Gallery in DC.
“Both are entitled ‘The Pride of Origin’ but the London show focuses more on our ‘Ancestry’, while the DC exhibition is slightly more abstract,” says the artist.
The shows have a great deal in common. Both use materials that are either recycled, organic, or handmade like the Washi paper from Japan and the homemade paper that she has made herself.
And both reflect the issue of identity in ways that compel us to consider how clashing cultures, customs, convictions, and even colours can be reconciled.
“Coming from a mixed background myself, I want my children to be proud of their ancestry, their identity,” says Maliza who admits she does not classify herself as either/or European or African, since she is both.
Seeing herself as essentially an embodiment of reconciliation, she hopes that by stitching, weaving, and blending contrasting elements, her art can reveal the beauty of merger.
Yet her two exhibitions are quite different despite their shared theme, use of mixed media and mutual forms are given that most of the works are collages.
Nonetheless, she also has several three-dimensional pieces in Washington. They include her kimono-like wall-hanging entitled ‘Imperfections’, made with Washi and handmade papers, gold threads, and assorted stitched fabrics.
I found the London show both ironic and amusing while her Washington DC one is more cerebral, organic, and abstract. What is marvellous about many of the pieces up at Sulger-Buel until mid-June is the self-mockery of works like ‘The Proud of Origins Collection I and III.’
Both pieces feature engraved portraits of her Swiss spouse’s distant relations that she found in a family attic and brought back to Africa like other ‘found objects’ she picks up during her walks around Lake Naivasha and then employs in her art.
It was on top of these 18th Century images that Maliza superimposes West African masks. It is as if she is making good fun not just with her people but with European colonial culture that she feels has to embrace or at least accept the reality of African culture, whether they like it or not.
The other evidence that Maliza intends for her art to make a power statement about the equal footing that African and European cultures share is contained in her two self-portraits, one in either show.
Both blend black and white fabrics, although in London she weaves in more tweed while in Washington DC she uses more hessian.
But both use the same photograph, the artist’s mug shot, looking quite stern. The big difference is the crown worn by this dreadlocked lady on which is her regal logo, Z, short for Zaire, her original African homeland.
One might have expected the artist to be at the London exhibition. But after placing African masks (the kind Picasso and Matisse adored) over those European faces, the sensibility of her show might have shifted from being ironic and witty to abusive and easily misunderstood.
The London show has several self-portraits of Maliza although they are understated with Africanised ‘crowns’ made of animal skin or plastic fishnet mesh mixed with organic fabrics.
The handmade and the manufactured stand side-by-side in Maliza’s art. Be it black and white, realistic and abstract, dynastic and libertarian; or even bourgeois and peasant, in Maliza's world, the time for reconciliation has come, not through wars but art.