A platform for its artists to explore political and socioeconomic dynamics and questionings – from Africa’s pervasive mining industry through the work of Jean David Nkot (Human@Condition, May 29—July 7, 2021) to the deep-seated cultural practice of hairstyling in Cameroon with Ajarb Bernard Ategwa’s Kwata Saloon (August 28—September 28, 2021) – AFIKARIS Gallery engages with ongoing environmental challenges with the first solo show in France of critically-acclaimed Angolan artist Cristiano Mangovo. On view from November 6—December 7, 2021, Humano e a Natureza brings to bear the dominant relation of humans over nature, with a selection of a dozen all-new works from his eponymous series, among which large-scale 2 x 2-meter canvases, as the artist advances the possibility of a balanced ecological world.
An established multimedia artist, Cristiano Mangovo (b. 1982, Luanda, Angola) turns to figuration for its ability to convey messages. In his canvases, Mangovo leaves free reign to his imagination – playing with reality, his brush is explosive and alive as he breeds new, composite beings, hybrid assemblages of human, animal and vegetable. Forms emerge from the scattered bodies, while ties, sleeves, and pants dress the randomly combined limbs. As viewers attempt to make sense of what they see, a diffuse yet perceptible balance emanates from the fantastical creatures, suggesting a raw, elementary, and organic harmony between men and nature.
In his large-scale canvas, Domination (2021), Cristiano Mangovo boldly states his intent, setting the tone for the works to follow. Voicing a subtle despondency, he points to humans’ position of domination over their natural surroundings, long taken for granted, and one that has continuously upset a broader earthly equilibrium. Rooted in the present reality, his works ring particularly true, and fierce, in light of prevailing discourses on accelerating climate change and of a pandemic that has plagued humanity for the past two years – allowing nature to faintly reclaim its place. Mangovo’s creatures, emerging from the chaos, exert a lively, almost festive movement. Seemingly grotesque, they take on unexpectedly hopeful, cheerful undertones as they come to suggest a rebirth, a new balance, where men and nature peacefully coexist.
Punctuated through his canvases, the motif of the “double mouth” acts as a lieucommunin his work. Calling to environment reflections’ political dimension, it finds its roots in the regime led by José Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola – Mangovo’s homeland – from 1979 to 2017. Condemning an unsaid dictatorial regime where public opinion was strictly controlled, Mangovo uses his two-mouthed characters as the vocal opposants of this censorship, freeing them from lasting repression. At once pamphlets and aspirational sermons, his canvases turn Mangovo from artist to messenger, conferring his art with the power to fight ignorance and raise awareness.
Playfully and stingingly revisiting visual idioms and daily life situations to grasp his viewers’ attention, Mangovo’s canvases exude sarcasm and critique. In Dragon vs Mwana Mpwo (2021), he plainly refers to the Chinese agribusiness’s implementation throughout Africa as a means to denounce the ways in which economic and political stakes often overule environmental concerns. Pointing to the lost land and natural resources, relinquished for transitory and futile financial profit, Mangovo’s stance is one of discernment and indignation, a cutting criticism on the exploitation of a nature which endlessly aspires to live in harmony with humans, and which political claims are pushing farther and farther away.
By confronting his viewers with these realities, Mangovo challenges them, and societies at large: why do humans have the power of life or death over nature, over other species – and do they? Himself brought to address these behaviors, he responds:
“I continuously question myself on the way humans claim and display their superiority over other living creatures. This thought has seeped through my work for a certain amount of time now, as I seek to integrate and express the emotions that other living beings could feel. Doing so requires what might seem like a dive into the imaginary, when it is in fact a simple, very real change of perspective – one that asks that we consider any form of life as having its own value, one to be respected.”
Ultimately, if Humano e a Natureza addresses ongoing challenges posed by the environment, Mangovo’s brushes point specifically at common human understandings and actions, inviting his viewers to adopt a repairing rationale, one anchored in the formation of a new harmony.
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