Tyburn Gallery is pleased to present If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. Born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993, and currently based in the UK, Hwami has developed her own distinctive style of painting which interweaves figures, symbolic elements, and flattened fields of intense colour to create arresting, dream-like tableaux on a large scale.
For this exhibition, Hwami has drawn inspiration from her collection of family photographs, using experimental techniques to paint figures and scenes evoking the nostalgia and longing of the diaspora experience. The works are a meditation on the idea of home and multiple homes; their stories tend to blur into autobiography - existing between portrait and self-portrait - whilst exploring family connections and shared memory. Hwami explains:
‘The beauty of being a child of the diaspora is that we are able to reinvent ourselves and what it means to be African – if there is a shared meaning. Redefining what it means to be a Zimbabwean immigrant living in the UK, who has inhabited three different countries and multiple cultures - from LGBT culture, emo culture, internet culture, Xhosa, Shona, Coloured and British culture - these are the layers that make up my individual experience. I’m more interested in the individual adventures we all explore when it comes to art making. I like what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says about the “single story” and refusing to tell it.’
This celebration of the familiar and the familial is closely related to a strongly recurring theme in Hwami’s work: the joyfulness of childhood, with its pure spirit of creative experimentation, free of limitations and boundaries. This love of freedom and imagination underpins the artist’s approach to the often-disheartening realities of contemporary life, whether in relation to political issues or LGBTQ rights. Her work displays a kind of optimistic Afro-utopianism, expressions of vibrant inner life and celebrations of future possibilities:
‘In my paintings, I like to create a positive future… like a utopia-dream. So, I paint the future of Zimbabwe in a light manner instead of painting what goes on now, because that doesn’t help me heal.’
Typically, the artist begins her work by creating digital collages, playing with images, photographs and text freely, cutting and collaging and rearranging in order to make her composition. She sees the stage of making digital studies as the most creative and intuitive part of her process, before she begins to transfer the image to a large-scale canvas, adding her subtle painterly sensibility into the mix of bold form and colour.
Hwami’s use of numerous visual languages and references, fusing everything from contemporary internet sub-cultures to established art historical traditions, carves out her place as an artist who is unafraid to stand astride multiple worlds, presenting all the contradictions and complications of one individual’s subjectivity.
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami graduated from Wimbledon College of Arts, London, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (first-class honours) in 2016, after completing a BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design at North Manchester College in 2013.
In 2016, Hwami won the Clyde & Co Art Award and the Cass Art Materials Grant, as well as being shortlisted for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries Award. The same year, she was also named Young Achiever of the Year at the Zimbabwean International Women’s Awards. Her work has been exhibited at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (2017), the Royal Scottish Academy (2016), and Shonibare Studios, London (2014).Upcoming projects include L’art raconte la vie, Fondation Clément, Martinique, organised in collaboration with Musée Dapper, Paris (2018). Hwami’s work is part of the Fondation Blachère collection and other important private collections.