Kudzanai-Violet Hwami | Skye waNehanda (i)
Central to Hwami’s artistic project is the Black body, which she notes has in the Western tradition not always been an acceptable subject for portraiture. Eventually this resurgence of figuration ‘will go beyond the black body’, she says. ‘It will lift up portraiture as a genre for everyone. And that’s the beautiful thing about it’.
Skye WaNehanda reclines on a couch, looking at us over her shoulder. While her general disposition is reminiscent of that of the Grande Odalisque, her body is lusciously black, her posture relaxed and unchecked, her gaze unselfconscious. Against the bare blue wall, which glows with a rich atmospheric luminosity, Hwami has floated a cryptic image resembling a Greek sundial. Here the artist is possibly alluding to how a lot of scientific discoveries in Africa occurred thousands of years before developments by the Greeks and Romans. Several ancient African cultures birthed discoveries in astronomy, but the majority of discussions on the origins of science exclude developments in Africa. Striking, intense and exquisitely beautiful, the present work is exemplary of Hwami’s acclaimed paintings that weave compelling narratives, stories and representations of black bodies in different forms, in so doing addressing personal experiences of dislocation, displacement, and legacies of colonialism. The nude is a particularly powerful point of departure within Hwami’s oeuvre; through depicting the black body the artist boldly raises questions about its history, its representation, and interrogates sexuality, gender and spirituality. The work appears politically charged and is counterbalanced with a delicate representation of a private moment; as Jillian Caddell observes: “[Hwami’s] subjects recline and pose comfortably, often in domestic settings, though Hwami’s dense layering of figures and cacophonous patterns […] suggest that family relations, and the idea of home, can be fraught” (Jillian Caddell, “The Apollo 40 under 40 Africa in Focus: Kudzanai-Violet Hwami”, Apollo Magazine, 28 September 2020).
Born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami and her family relocated to South Africa amid political turmoil when she was nine years old, and then to the United Kingdom at seventeen. These experiences of geographical dislocation and displacement play an important role in the artist’s development. However, Hwami’s body of work, although personal, is not constricted to a place or location; the artist’s thematic choice of identity and sexuality have a universal appeal, and challenges viewers who share similar or opposing worldviews. In 2016, Hwami graduated from Wimbledon College of Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and was awarded the Clyde & Co. Award and the Young Achiever of the Year Award at the Zimbabwean International Women’s Awards, as well as being shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries. In 2017, she mounted her first solo show, If you keep going South, you’ll meet yourself, at Tyburn Gallery, which was critically acclaimed by critics and the press.