Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: When You Need Letters for Your Skin

    3 September–6 November 2021
    16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW

    Victoria Miro is delighted to present When You Need Letters for Your Skin, the gallery’s first solo exhibition of new paintings by Kudzanai-Violet Hwami.

    Based in the UK, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe and lived in South Africa from the ages of nine to seventeen. Her paintings combine visual fragments from a myriad of sources, such as online and archival images, and personal photographs, which collapse past and present.

     

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    Violet 1

    Oil, acrylic, oil stick and silk screen on canvas
    127.5 x 119.5 cm
    50 1/4 x 47 1/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Expiation, 2021

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    When You Need Letters for Your Skin is dealing with internal and private curiosities. The paintings present themselves as visual letters to the self.’ — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami

    Speaking about this new body of work the artist says, ‘When You Need Letters for Your Skin is an exhibition that is dealing with internal and private curiosities. The paintings present themselves as visual letters to the self. Over the past few years I have built up a body of collages which were often discarded and left in a pile – over time these works or ideas behind them had begun to overwhelmingly consume my mind to the point of restlessness. When you feel yourself to be sick, you begin to find strategies to overcome dis-ease…’

     


    Violet 2

    Oil and acrylic on canvas
    100 x 100 cm
    39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Tongue on Fire, 2021

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    Oil and acrylic on canvas
    143 x 119.5 cm
    56 1/4 x 47 1/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Innnspirit-ed, 2021

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    ‘I think I am seeking freedom. Collage making, which is a process I use to create a picture, has given me absolute freedom as a strategy…’ — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami

    Collage, in which the artist uses sources including family photographs, online archival images and vintage pornographic photographs, is a starting point. Hwami digitally edits and layers her chosen elements with further motifs to build compositions that, freeing the figure from the often-prescribed meanings and assumptions of their original context, create new narratives.

    About her use of collage Hwami says, ‘I think I am seeking freedom. Collage making, which is a process I use to create a picture, has given me absolute freedom as a strategy to overcome dis-ease.’

    For the artist, the freedom and playfulness that collage allows, where the artist can speculate about and distil different ideas and thoughts in a single still image, is analogous to a contemporary layering of one’s interests and activities, which are organised in an almost collage-like format to create an identity, especially through social media platforms. Here, Hwami boldly raises questions about human experience in relation to spirituality, observing how a spiritual experience might manifest itself in the body and suggesting ways in which, almost diaristically, it might begin to make itself known by leaving marks, letters, and notes on the physical form.


    Violet 3

    Oil on canvas
    153 x 259.5 cm
    60 1/4 x 102 1/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, You are killing my spirit, 2021

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    ‘There are moments within history and our current time which are inescapable and I think I want to give myself a moment to escape.’ — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami


    Violet 4

    Oil on canvas
    158.5 x 150 cm
    62 3/8 x 59 1/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Travellers 1, 2021

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    Oil and acrylic on canvas
    158.5 x 150 cm
    62 3/8 x 59 1/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Travellers 2, 2021

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    Oil on canvas
    158.5 x 150 cm
    62 3/8 x 59 1/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Travellers 3, 2021

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    ‘The show is really a beginning of the journey of self-inquiry. “What does identity really mean?”, is the question here.’ — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami

    The manner in which the internet shapes the ways we encounter information and each other is referenced directly in a number of works which, redolent of the Zoom interface, introduce multiple screens and juxtapose various personalities and implied voices within a single image. This pictorial framework, often centred around a nude, sets into motion the idea of conversations unfolding around the naked body today, how it is presented, observed, perceived, received or judged, and also, perhaps, how we edit and self-censor as we negotiate new dialogues around concepts of liberty, repression and self-expression.

     


    Violet 5

    Oil and acrylic on canvas
    100 x 100 cm
    39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Coat of Arms, 2021

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    Oil on canvas
    139.5 x 120 cm
    54 7/8 x 47 1/4 in

    Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Virtue Sermon, 2021

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    ‘Painting to me is a practice that allows me to remain curious, and the act of using collage is helpful as a reminder of the fragility of the human condition.’ — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami

    Disruptions and distortions to the physical form, sometimes resembling digital glitches or areas of pixelation, signal shifts in consciousness – and perhaps the forging of identities in digital space – while allusions to classical or religious subjects from art history, and motifs such as plants figure as further symbolic gateways. Foregrounded throughout is the power of paint and the medium’s ability to capture the power and physicality of flesh as well as the acceleration and fragmentation, nuance and complexity of contemporary experience.

     


    About the artist

    Photo © Jo Metson Scott

    Born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami currently lives and works in the UK. In 2019, Hwami presented work at the 58th Venice Biennale as part of the Zimbabwe Pavilion, the youngest artist to participate in the Biennale. Also in 2019, Hwami mounted her first institutional solo exhibition, (15,952km) via Trans – Sahara Hwy N1 at Gasworks, London. Recent group exhibitions include The Power of My Hands, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris (2021); Les Ateliers de Rennes – Biennale d’Art Contemporain, Rennes, France (2018); Five Bhobh – Painting at the End of an Era, Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa (2018); Discoloured Margins, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe (2017); and I See You, Victoria Miro, London, UK (2020). Her work is in collections including Perez Art Museum, Miami, USA, Kadist Foundation, Paris, France, Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa, Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa.

    Work by the artist features in Mixing It Up: Painting Today, the Hayward Gallery’s major contemporary painting survey this autumn (9 September–12 December 2021). Hwami will also have work featured in Ubuntu: A Lucid Dream at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (26 November 2021–20 February 2022).


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