Gasworks presents (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1, the first institutional solo exhibition by London-based artist Kudzanai-Violet Hwami.
Born in Zimbabwe, Hwami left her homeland at the age of nine amidst political turmoil. Drawing on personal experiences of geographical dislocation and displacement, her intensely pigmented paintings combine visual fragments from a myriad of sources such as online images and haunting family photographs, which collapse past and present into bold afro-futuristic visions.
While memories and visions of childhood in Zimbabwe have dominated her work to date, Gasworks’ exhibition bears testimony to her desire to reconnect with her country of origin, combining found images with pictures taken during a recent visit that forced her to confront her romantic notions of belonging and rootedness.
Looking for a way to immerse herself in present day Zimbabwe, Hwami spent a month at Dzimbanhete, an artist run space in the outskirts of Harare, and lived with a traditional healer. However, instead of gaining the spiritual connection she was seeking, this experience made her feel removed and ‘othered’ by the inability to fully embed herself in the context she calls home.
Hwami’s new work embodies this personal search by layering digital collages produced on a tablet. These images become the starting point for large-scale canvases, a process that reflects on the specific role of mediation taken by digital technology and online communication in the everyday lives of diasporic subjects. The resulting work overlaps narratives and combines stories that provide a personal take on the representation of black bodies, gender and sexuality, while also raising questions about family roots and colonial routes, spirituality, political power and displacement. Within this, the exhibition’s title (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1, literally maps the distance and route between Hwami’s home town in Zimbabwe and London. It also talks about Hwami’s physical and spiritual background as well as her journey into adulthood in the UK.
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1993, and lived in South Africa from the ages of 9 to 17. She currently lives and works in the UK. In 2019, she will present her first institutional solo exhibition at Gasworks in London, UK.
Hwami’s oil paintings reveal a deeply personal vision of Southern African life. Many of her paintings feature self-portraits and images of her immediate and extended family. Powerful nudes are another point of departure, boldly raising questions about the black body and its representation, as well as sexuality, gender and spirituality. Her influences include music, such as ZimHeavy & Afrobeats; literature, including the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Carl Jung; and her own ongoing voyage of self-discovery.
The artist’s vivid work raises issues surrounding diaspora, displacement and identity. Her process involves experimenting with photography and digitally collaged images, using these to create large works on paper or canvas with intensely pigmented oil paint, and often incorporating other media and techniques, such as silkscreen, pastel or charcoal.