Gallery 1957, London, announces an exhibition of new works from artist Arthur Timothy (b. 1957, Ghana) based on memories and photographs of Sierra Leone. Titled POSTCARDS FROM A PROMISED LAND, the exhibition surveys the people, architecture, and natural beauty of Sierra Leone, against a wider backdrop of the nation’s history and hopes.
Painted from family holiday pictures taken from 1985 until the present day, Timothy’s new series presents Sierra Leone as a country in an ongoing state of renewal. Depicting abandoned buildings reclaimed by nature, alongside snapshots of neighbours hurrying to church services, Timothy’s reflections on the structures, people, and natural landscape of the country where he grew up, offer a beautiful and nuanced insight into its development as a whole.
Marking a departure for the artist, POSTCARDS FROM A PROMISED LAND sees Timothy focusing increasingly on nature, celebrating Sierra Leone’s beauty and resilience in the face of adversity. Many of the works are based in or around the capital of Freetown, a city founded in 1792 as a settlement for freed African American, Afro-Caribbean and Liberated African slaves (many who had received freedom from the British in return for fighting against the US in the American War for Independence). Celebrating it as a place of great natural beauty, despite struggles endured in the wake of slavery, colonialism, Ebola, and civil war, Timothy’s artworks encapsulate both the dreams and failures of the ‘promised land’ this city offered for the displaced Creoles for whom it was created.
In works such as THE COCONUT SELLER, the viewer glimpses street life on the corner of Earl Street and Mends Street in Freetown, the site of Timothy’s grandmother’s house (now occupied by his son Duval) and the streets in which he used to play as a child. In LAKKA and GENESIS, we see abundant flora and fauna overwhelming architecture, the effects of rain encouraging nature to fight back and reclaim states of construction. However, the two sites embody very disparate histories for the artist and the country, the first depicting an unfinished property abandoned during the Rebel War, the second exploring the new life his son is breathing into Timothy’s former family home.
‘Nature is kind of eating away at it all,’ explains Timothy reflecting on the organic matter within the work, ‘almost every year you have to rebuild or re-paint it, a further reminder of the country’s sustained state of metamorphosis and the ongoing triumph of beauty over hardship.’
The exhibition is accompanied by a text from literary activist, editor and publisher Kadija George, who comments:
‘Memories of aunties, sisters and cousins beam through the portraits of children of extended family members in POSTCARDS FROM A PROMISED LAND, whilst the varied textures, tones and structures in his landscapes also embody poignant remembrances for Timothy. For me, much is centred on what I see as the heart of the collection, the triptych ISABELLA’S HEAD START (LAKKA). Here Timothy paints his family playing along a long sandy beach around the peninsula in Western Sierra Leone, close to Freetown. Straying from his previous portraiture imagery, Timothy presents beaches that are deserted, quiet, and peaceful, allowing for a moment of reflection. The work is based on a memory of a family race in Lakka, whereby everyone was given a head start according to their age, and Isabella, the youngest, was given a large one; Arthur wanted to win, and everyone overtook Isabella, who then burst into tears. This prominent memory truly captures sorrows and triumphs and the enduring essence of family, which runs throughout the series, as well as the artist’s joy in revisiting the ravenous beauty of Sierra Leone.’