Gideon Appah: Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University Feb 19, 2022 – Jun 19, 2022 601 W Broad St Richmond VA 23220
Richmond, VA– The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (ICA at VCU) is pleased to announce Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes—the first institutional solo exhibition of Ghanaian artist Gideon Appah, on view from February 19 to June 19, 2022. Comprised of paintings, drawings and media ephemera, the artist’s latest body of work chronicles the cycle of cultural memory–from heyday to by gone–through a series of portraits featuring figures illustrious and figures forgotten.
For these dynamic tableaus, Appah used newspaper clippings, entertainment posters and films spanning the 1950s through the 1980s as source materials to explore the rise and fall of Ghana’s cinema and leisure culture.
One central work in the exhibition, ROXY 2 (2021)—named in reference to Ghana’s famous Roxy Cinema, located in the capital city, Accra—emphasizes architecture as a vehicle for national remembrance. By placing figures at a recognizable site, this work and others pay homage to Ghana’s old cinema houses, spaces that were once at the center of social life, particularly during the country’s struggle for independence from colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s.
Allusions to popular Ghanian films, including The Boy Kumasenu (1952), I Told You So (1970) and Kukurantumi: Road to Accra (1983), can also be located across Appah’s characters and environments, demonstrating the tangibility of the public imagination. These popular films allow the artist to grasp the ways in which cultural appetites evolve with time, rendering memories that continue to define the present.
The artist’s visual vernacular is traceable through striking scenes from public and private life, unraveling both intimate and collective forms of personhood. Appah’s transitory gaze gestures towards life’s cyclical nature, documenting scenes ranging from the dapper, club-going men seen in Hyped Teen (2021) and Bliss (2020-21), to quiet, domestic scenes of A Woman Drowned in Water (2021) and Man in Bed (2021).
Many figures are painted smoking, both as an homage to nightlife culture and, perhaps, as an omen of eventual decay. Appah’s work speaks to a sense of loss, from the death of cinema to the death of democracy itself, while working through that loss to generate something dreamlike and intangible.
Some subjects lean against cars or soak in bathtubs, while others are suspended in a sort of nothing, as the built environment falls away to reveal an amorphous void beneath.
Amidst the desires for permanence traditionally associated with portraiture, Appah emphasizes the incommensurability that belies such representationalaims; his depictions instead point to the processes of memory’s formation and reformation across time and space.