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A hint of Africa

Fulgence Niamba exhibition at ACE Space

Trish Lee

Trish Lee


01635 886663

A taste of Africa

BOTH hall and bar at Newbury’s ACE Space are filled with vibrant paintings by artist Fulgence Niamba.

Born in Ivory Coast, he trained in art in the capital Abidjan and in Paris, teaching in both countries and England. His work (acrylic on canvas) is informed by African traditions and Hebrew symbolism and has great presence. Paint is thickly applied with an audacious, direct technique, which embodies and exudes energy. Forms are bold and simplified, whether human figures or abstracted shapes, with a recurring zig-zag motif used to render figures and their interaction. Such stylisation also suggests universal forms.Traditional African masks also appear. Representing the spirits of animals, ancestors, mythological heroes and moral values, they are considered a source of spiritual power.

The most conventionally figurative work is the jazz-inspired, monochrome diptych Take Five, its free yet anchored technique akin to musical improvisation. Three imposing works, with interacting figures, hang together. Sacred Wood Brothers and Huit Clos are expressively painted in a restricted palette of ochres, whites, browns and blacks, bringing to mind the earthy colours and approach of Aboriginal work. Femme Face au Masque, with added deep blue-blacks and red, is concerned with the status of womenin traditional African societies, their lives proscribed by gender roles, with little individual agency. Here, a pregnant woman seeks out atraditional mask, for comfort and strength.Other works contain hieroglyphic-like signs and symbols. In a panel of seven small works, each bears a single motif, denoting Benefactor, Unity, Protection – elements all communities need to thrive. The wall-piece Letters of Light is constructed from 27 small canvases, formally arranged, each carrying a lone sign. The artist’s note tells us these are Hebrew letter-forms, but to the viewer they may also suggest musical notation, African symbols, linguistic or calligraphic forms. Meaning is always made by both artist and viewer. The show also addresses desirable universal values – unity, balance and harmony – within human societies and the environment. Here Niamba’s work embodies those values both compositionally and conceptually. The two discrete areas of Middle Pillar deal with binaries: order and disorder, aggression and calm, ying and yang, left-brain and right-brain. When these are in balance, harmony ensues. This symbiosis is also evident in the geometric forms of Balance and in the calm Infinite Source. Femininity Power is a voluptuous, fertile, enveloping form; New Beginning suggests life growing within the womb or a new male/female union. In Symphony 02, sacred letters are combined to form an abstract composition.

There is irony too. The Thinker references Rodin’s sculpture, but here real life intrudes, in the form of collaged elements – fragments of unpaid bills, mortgage arrears, bank statements, duty logs from low-paid jobs – witness to the difficulties faced by those trying to make a life in a new country.

A panel of four black-and-white photographic prints by guest artist Michael Gnahoua are a visual post-colonial comment. Three super-enlarged, semi-blurred images suggest that traditional African music and crafts are fading away, while capitalism’s advertising slogans are sharply focused. This is a joyous show, rich in colour, vigour and symbolism, concerned with the indivisibility and interconnectedness of life. Spirituality, balance, harmony and inner peace matter, whatever our culture or beliefs.The show, which runs until August 26, can be viewed by those attending gigs, events and community activities at ACE Space. Fulgence Niamba himself will be stewarding the show on Wednesdays from noon to 2pm.

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