Introduction by Thembinkosi Goniwe
Indivisible showcases some of Ablade Glover’s colourful paintings in which people conglomerate in numbers, at the marketplace, civil protests, during mass prayers and carnival festivities. These are impressive urban topographies, so bustling and captivating sceneries that conjure up the human rhythms, beats and paces of metropolitan Ghana. Preoccupying most of Glover’s paintings, evidently, are outdoor activities that allude to a critical engagement with the public sphere wherein people are captured from an aerial angle as if viewed from a god-above watching eye. Their execution is viscerally splendid, through a creative manipulation of colours, forms and tones that merge together as harmonies of differences, if not ordered chaotic elements. At one level they are aesthetically pleasurable and enchanting, whilst on the other prompting one to ponder and reflect on their meaning.
So remarkable is Glover’s creative approach: a combination of pointillism, abstraction and realism that also is informed by and articulated via African cultural sensibilities and modern aspirations, all making up his African modernism. It is African modernism whose influences owe to the west equally so to African arts, local developments and experiences, especially Glover’s acknowledged admiration of artworks by Nigerian pioneering artist Bruce Onobrakpeya, and the late Ghanaian artists Saka Acquaye and sculptor Vincent Kofi. Glover’s modernism should be seen in the context of African modernisms of Ben Enwonwo, Uche Okeke, Ibraham El-Salahi, Malangatana Ngwenya, Gerard Sekoto and George Pemba, amongst others.
Glover’s paintings are palatable in their bright, passionate, animated colours. Even their rich textures that create rough yet impressive surfaces are not without seduction. This should not imply they are mute in politics, but underscore their visual qualities achieved through oil (and acrylic) paints, applied using a palette knife that allows Glover the freedom and immediacy to manipulate the wet into wet technique, not to mention the thick application of paint which produces an identical moist if not tacky effect. This creative approach enables a delightful looseness to his paintings, endowing them with lenient expressions.
Consider the series The Market, which Glover describes as “busyness studies” that visually articulate the dynamism of the marketplace which is purely a females’ domain, inherent with fascinating movement, unending changing scenarios and color. In West Africa the marketplace is known not merely as an economic domain of women but also for contentious transactions and ubiquitous social, cultural and political relations where purchasing and trading are an interminable pursuit. It is a complex site of crossroads for various economies and configurations where transactions between the rural and urban, tradition and modern, periphery and dominant, native and foreign, local and global take place.
The dynamism of the market is also evident in The People series. But unlike the market paintings that are characterized by both human figures and stalls for merchandise, the paintings in The People series are excessively flooded by human figures. In fact, people cover entire surfaces, leaving no room for other features instead spill over the edges of the canvas. Congestion and surplus overwhelm these paintings of people whom Glover considers were politically important “when the struggle for Ghana’s independence commenced” but are now treated as “faceless masses…without power” in the post-colony.
The predicament of the post-colony in failing its people seems engaged in The Protests, a discontentment perhaps expressed in placards with fuzzy writings or slogans that appear more prominent than human figures. Placards are creative devices that visually articulate popular apparatus utilized in street revolts. It is as if Glover stressed the fact that protesters are arousing their demands, thus the repetitive sequences of the placards, which visually rhyme like a chorus, a rhythm, a beat, even a melody of contemporary music inherently expressing the “unpleasant” concerns of a society in “conflict”. Evoked here seems to be the dramatic theater of the post-colony, as if to remind us of the continuing struggle against the tyrannies of haunting neo-colonialism and paralyzing global forces in the twenty-first century.
In Glover’s oeuvre, people are sites of the continuing struggle equally so of celebrations as in the case of the Carnival series and the religious worship in the Prayerscapes. The latter, for instance, is populated by figures bending down to the ground performing their Muslim entreaty. Another dense and saturated series, marked by overcrowding figures whose carefree visual approach renders the paintings as surface patterns, somewhat reminiscent of the West African colourful decorative fabrics that have become a signature of African clothing fashion, design and interior décor.
A non-figurative series, neither crowded nor fervent but unflustered in its non-agitating affect, The Forestscapes is permeated by an evanescent and serene gesticulation of light. A sense of airiness offers moments of wonder into the placid open atmosphere of the sparkling vivid skies in forests with so few (of what seems to be leave-less) trees, thus the concept of scapes. So fascinating here is the poetic marvel at the aesthetic visual of composed minimalistic sceneries, where the absence of human figures offers the possibility to pander in speculative probing, somehow incited and attended by a sense of uncertainty, a sensation somewhat triggered by banality of the strange trees. Such an aesthetic effect owes to Glover’s eccentric blend of minimalism, abstraction, pointillism and semi-realism. It is the quality of creative engagement with ideas instead of the actuality of objects, places, people or events.
Of importance: that Indivisible is Glover’s solo exhibition in Cape Town is significant a development in the maturing history of art in South Africa, a history that is expanding to artists from various African countries and the diaspora. The exhibition strengthens the ongoing moves to integrate South Africa into the broader African landscape whose fracture and divide is thanks to colonial apartheid. It is becoming easier and with more with confidence to say South Africa is no longer a geographic region historically construed as a fragment and yet an insular island on the African continent. Ablade Glover, a living pioneer of contemporary Ghanaian art, is part of this significant development in the history of African visual arts.