Review: 'Devil in Disguise' at Jack Bell Galler
What a nice surprise. How rare it is to receive an email from a commercial gallery in the middle of August that’s not an infuriating ‘we are on holiday so go away’ out of office. As I’m sure you already know, for the month of August, most creative industries shut down like a dodgy windows computer in an NHS hospital. It’s not totally unreasonable; the obvious aim is to make money, so why waste precious time allowing ragged ruffians into the gallery when the only ones likely to purchase something from one of the said pristine establishments will be polishing their gold bullion or sunning themselves on the French Riviera? For once, I embraced the spam, grateful for the invitation to the Jack Bell Gallery's latest exhibition Devil in Disguise.
Right, to business: Devil in Disguise is a group exhibition on singular works by contemporary African artists Aboudia, Baatarzorig Batjargal, Armand Boua, Gonçalo Mabunda, Lavar Munroe, and Boris Nzebo. What/why/who is a devil in disguise? It's clear that the definition is highly personal, since both devils and their disguises manifest themselves in multitudinous ways throughout the show. It's at this point I would turn to the press release and regurgitate what the curators/organisers have to say on the subject. Alas, I’m solo on this one, so here we go: engaging brain.
Overall, it seems that Devil in Disguise is less about demons and more a means of showcasing some of the Jack Bell favourites. Therefore, it seems only right for me to highlight mine. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t initially attending for the Aboudia on display. I’ve been following the Ivorian artist for some time now, and over the last few years he's cemented a position as a kind of pin-up for contemporary African art. For that reason let’s put Aboudia to one side and take a look at the offerings of his companions.
Thanks to some very intelligent curation, I was immediately met by the show’s most ostentatious work, ‘The Heart of Man,’ a recent painting by Boris Nzebo. Nzebo’s large scale works often depict the surroundings and locals of his hometown in Cameroon. Not this time though. The devil on display in this composition is decidedly Western - a demon by the name of Donald Trump. Most of Nzebos paintings often feature profiles that focus on traditional African hairstyles, and while this piece is somewhat of a departure from the traditional, the depiction of hair still plays part (who can mistake that dodgy lid?) It’s kitsch, but it works. Such is Nzebo’s style that you almost forget that the subject is Trump. Artistic skill masks the contents, at least for a moment. I enjoyed the work for its expansive and bright pallet, its faceless figurines that dominate the front right of the canvas, and its intricate optical swirl. The devil has crept in, disguised as the most powerful man in the world. Oh wait...
Opposite lies the far more outwardly melancholic work of another Ivorian, Armand Boua. ‘Untitled (diptych)’ was produced this year and sees the artist at his textured and dismantled best. Boua’s works are emotional, his canvases have been densely layered before being stripped to its essence. In this particular work, two of figures hold up signs in apparent protest and a grouped amalgamation to the right dominates the surface. A calming sky blue hue gives welcome relief, providing a stark contrast to the tortured souls of the protesters. Boua doesn’t let the viewer settle, not alluding to just one injustice, but instead echoing many.
The exhibition is not just a deconstruction of certain political figures, or a representation of third-world suffering, or indeed a tangible representation of war (see Gonçalo Mabunda’s dystopian furniture). And no mum, the title is not an Elvis reference either! Instead, it’s a highlight reel that simultaneously moves and intrigues. The power of the show is in the quality of the art and the eye of its curator. But enough with my emotive responses, your responses are far more important. Take this opportunity to enjoy a number of masters at work, the exhibition is on until 19th August, get your skates on.