Press Release of the Exhibition
Yonamine was born in Angola in 1975. The artist lived in Angola, Zaire (R.D.C.), Brazil and United Kingdom. At the moment Yonamine lives and works between Lisbon, Luanda and Berlin. Yonamine describes himself as a Luso-Congolese artist.
“To act is to build. Destroying.”
Teixeira de Pascoaes
The title of Yonamine’s new solo show is a first-person statement: “Ain’t no Saint”. When we think of it, there’s nothing new there: nobody is. Nonetheless, as soon as we enter the gallery space we realize the full irony and ingenuity of the statement.
A wall lined with toast, like tiles composing a figurative motif, reveals the repetition of a face and Arabic numerals. As we approach the mural, we discover that the face belongs to José Eduardo dos Santos while the numerals seem to form some kind of undecipherable code in which the numbers 0, 1, and 8 are predominant. The key to decode this cypher is the face itself. Number 1 refers to the status of the President of the Republic, the country’s number 1, conveying all the symbolic and numerological significance of this number; but 1 is also ordinal, the 1st, and the synonym of Kwanzaa, the celebration of the beginning of the crop season in Africa, which also gives its name to Angola’s currency. The 0 represents absence, the lack of something, the void, a meaning that gains extra dimensions when we think that its circular form is also the symbol of eternity. Finally, 8 is usually associated with the symbol of infinity, a cyclic number that has, in African beliefs, a totalizing symbolism. In the Kabbalah, it represents the appropriation of power and personal victory through the accumulation of wealth. That said, we cannot avoid thinking about the consequences of eating a toast with the face of José Eduardo dos Santos on it… But this game is also a visual epigraphy that refers to the ignorance and to the way “art is consumed” in certain contexts: “to eat art,…. art”.
The provocation which is implicit in this installation is continued on the square burlap canvases that occupy the remaining space in the gallery’s first floor. To produce these pieces, Yonamine employed many of the artistic techniques he has been using throughout his career: newspaper clippings, silkscreen printing, collage, graffiti, drawing, painting, photography in offset posters. At the same time, the artist intensifies an archaeological process that consists in gathering iconographic and iconic elements of his memory and experience; he expands the semantics he has been exploring, inspired by urban semiotics; and creates new metaphoric analogies with anthropological and sociological resonances in which satirical humor is a constant ingredient in his deconstruction of stereotypes.
The artist’s critical analysis is focused on the political, economic, social and cultural signifiers that pertain to Angolan society and to the world in general: Obama; “Je suis Charlie”; the symbol of weight in packaging is present in several of his pieces, a reference to the heavy social “burdens”; the bloodied washing machine drum and the cleaning supplies, Neo Blanc, OMO, CIF, refer to the white-washing of corruption and physical and psychological violence—CIF is also the acronym of China International Foundation, and a reference to the fact that China is “colonizing” Angola with its investments, colossal business ventures and tightly controlled network of influences; the graffiti erased by the authorities that, because there is not enough paint, are simply scribbled over so that their original message is rendered imperceptible, creating even more visual pollution, etc., etc.
With this countless accumulation and anarchic juxtaposition of elements, Yonamine evokes the mutation of street walls as posters are pasted on top of each other, ending up torn and destroyed by erosion. It is as if the artist is bringing the marginal element of urban landscape we usually ignore into the gallery space.
On each canvas there are layers upon layers upon layers, blending with each other in a seemingly riotous and unrelenting action of erasure. Given that the vast majority of these materials are manufactured, this is a complex, time consuming and demanding process that implies the destruction of several moments of rigorous artistic creation.
In an unprecedented way, the artist pushes himself to the limit, demanding himself the necessary courage and determination to put this process of self-vandalism into practice. The aggressiveness and nihilistic scorn one can feel in these works of art are reminiscent of punk aesthetics, the expression of a subversive culture. This is what differentiates these pieces, and what raises Yonamine to the category of artists who do not limit their work to the restraints imposed by the Market, who are not afraid to take chances.
Finally, a video. “M of M” (2013), is presented for the first time in Portugal. M, the letter, is the protagonist of a real story composed solely by words. White on a black background, the words appear following the tictacking of a clock, revealing an autobiographical universe of references, all of which start with the letter M and often relate to each other. Again, the artist uses accumulation and association, based on an archeological process—remembering—that, in this case, results in an inventory of words from disparate languages.
The show presents several moments of Yonamine’s artistic discourse. If, as Agostinho Neto once said “Language is not the issue, but quality”, then (and only then) “Victory is certain!”
Press Release of the Exhibition
“You know marrying money is a full time job
I don't need the aggravation
I'm a lazy slob
I hang fire, I hang fire
Hang fire, put it on the wire”
The Rolling Stones, ‘Hang Fire’, Tattoo You, 1981
Yonamine’s artwork is marked by the interaction of means of production, expressed in the way each one of his pieces is built. The artist redeploys hierarchies of cultural signifiers and sociological typologies in a cumulative praxis that is ever expanding, following his own experiences as a mundane and cosmopolitan individual, who recognizes his instinct of communion and feels part of the world in any place.
From Luanda – his hometown – to Muyehlekete, in Mozambique, passing through Cali, Colombia, as an artist in residence – where the Tattoo You series was started –, to his latest travels through the Orient on the way to Australia, Yonamine appropriates images and actions that he recognizes as signs of miscegenation. The artist explores the ambiguity between coloniser and colonised, cultural manifestations (ancestral and contemporary), encapsulated in a globalised world that is marked by colonial transition.
This conjunction of signifiers reveals a prolific and diverse artistic practice, confirmed in this exhibition. We see it in the Indian ink drawings over Chinese newspapers (these newspapers being one of his first strong visual impressions arriving at the orient) used as base material to intertwine drawings appropriated from tattooing and scarification.
Another piece, CAN (from the series Tattoo You, that addresses influences such as the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Hélio Oiticica), is a video installation where the author stages a percussion orchestra using the rhythm of tattoo needles on tin cans. Here we feel an attention on the act of incising a body , being it a scarified tree trunk from Oceania or tattooed coca leaves. Attentive to the body as an ethical, moral and economic signifier, the artist presents it as the agent of manufacture and the simultaneous place for risk, trade and the sensitive, gentle, matter of all initiation ceremonies.
The exhibition “SÓ CHINA” (“ONLY CHINA”) is another stage of Yonamine’s field work, an experience dispersed throughout a diversity of contexts, embodying his work and research methods and allowing procedural decisions to be tested in the exhibition space; being it, overall, another moment for experimentation and confrontation.
Press Release of the Exhibition
Sep 2nd > Oct 10th 2009
We have nothing of our own
By those who have nowhere
Anon. Graffiti on a wall in Lisbon
As a whole, we might term the works by Yonamine (b. 1975) as diaries or even archaeologies. On time, on the past and the present (on the re-invented, re-updated), on life. His and that of the world. The title chosen for this exhibition is perhaps so significant due to this fact. Control Z is a computer language that allows one to “undo” or go back, but here it almost becomes a manifesto about the accumulating of experiences from which we can truly take a lesson.
In this exhibition now on show at the Cristina Guerra Gallery we see a momentary crystallisation of this ephemeral set of references, from the history of art, covering politics and the artist’s everyday life, which allow us to reflect, through his “aesthetics of proposal” on a set of current and past concerns that we may consider to be eternal. In this manner there is an attempt to stand up to forgetfulness. As is shown in (I shoot can, 2009) the spiral, impressionist movement of the artist’s footprints serves to remind us that we are all in the crosshairs. The way he constructs the work (in puzzle) and its process of accumulation and random fragmentation, almost surrealist, can tell us a great deal about how today we all are fragmented identities, broken mirrors. Ongoing, flowing, frail identities, subjected to several different types of violence.
In his modus operandi Yonamine proposes a universe that coincides more with the authentic aspect of life, going against the most machine-like and homogenous view of a world that nowadays one wants to be “hygienic” and perfect. As is shown by some of the symbols in his works, here it is forbidden to wash, iron or tidy up. Unlike other artists we may evoke here, like Basquiat, the whole process here is, however, drawn up within a greatly humorous Pop language. As if laughter, in its derisory understanding, were the best weapon of catharsis. Perhaps this is why he invites us to chill out on sandbags that remind us of the beach on which (peacefully or not) George W. Bush socializes with the picture of the Kinguilas (women who change money in the streets).
This ambivalence between the serious and the playful provokes interpretative short-circuits in the spectator, as this installation can also be likened to a treacherous trench in which we are all invited to share the above-mentioned guilt over our fatal and inevitable humanity. It is also a reference to our capacity for opting between an exercise in reflection and a form of pure contemplation.
Yonamine brings together a set of situations that oscillate between a past, a present and a possible future, offering a concept of time that escapes limitation. Like in the language of Reggae DJs, in his work we may think about the concept of rewinding, and at the same time we are located within today. The evoking of his past is done in several different ways, form African tradition (as can be seen in the reference to the drawings in the sand by the Quiocos from Northwest Angola) to the memories of Angola with a search for a type of blue (Kind of Blue, 2009), in the style of Yves Klein, inspired by the different “personalized” tones used on the kandongueiros (taxis), or also through the use of old photographs taken from newspapers found in the Lisbon Feira da Ladra flea market. He gives these a new life in a new context.
In High Tech Retro, 2009, we find another manner of re-updating. The “Last Supper”, painted by Da Vinci, simultaneously serves as a springboard for a reflection on the history of art revisited and as a “political” and ironic commentary in telling us about the current financial crisis, which has in fact existed since 1975, when our “messianic” hegemony starts to crumble, among other factors, through Angolan independence. The flies on the canvas thus verify the stating of a certain parasitical mentality that is present to this day in Portuguese culture.
All this is saying little about such a rich and complex world that this artist’s work becomes. His canvases, just like this text, need “physical” yet not necessarily limiting containment. Through his vast and labyrinthine set of subjects and forms, Yonamine grants us the possibility of travelling beyond the physical space of the canvas. “If I weren’t a painter, I would be a writer, or even a musician … That’s it … For me it’s all about communication”.
Impossible to do CONTROL Z… Just as well.
Carla de Utra Mendes
CONTROL Z is slow, sliding over the natural disorder of things until it
weaves and waits, and we want slow sliding on the unnatural order of things,
because thinking hurts.