Richard Onyango: Kangalika

Richard Onyango: Kangalika

TRAFO Center for Contemporary Art Szczecin

Richard Onyango, The Massage, 2009/2024. 120 x 160 cm. Photo: Marta Miszuk.

June 6, 2024
Richard Onyango
Kangalika
June 6–September 8, 2024
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TRAFO Center for Contemporary Art Szczecin
Świętego Ducha 4
70-205 Szczecin
Poland
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Curated by: Marlena Chybowska-Butler, Łukasz Jastrubczak, Stanisław Ruksza.

“Kangalika means suffering, but endurance, But finally arriving.” Kangalika is the exhibition of one of the most influential artists of the East coast of Africa, Richard Onyango (Kenya). For over three decades, his works have been exhibited at the most prominent art shows worldwide. They are held in a number of prestigious collections.

The paintings presented in Szczecin reflect successive periods in Onyango’s practice, documenting the characteristic features and evolution of his art. Some of them have been repainted by Onyango specifically for the show in Poland, mirroring his current Afrofuturist point of view. Ytasha L. Womack defines Afrofuturism as “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future and liberation.”

Onyango became fascinated by the signs of industrial development in the Kenyan landscape quite early: trucks, motorbikes, planes, matatu buses and pop-cultural changes. “To keep things properly in mind I had to draw them since I didn’t have a camera to record what I would like to put in memory,” he says. In his vision, airplanes or cars are not just synonyms for change, they symbolize fragility. Accidents show the world overshadowed by the looming disaster and the unpredictable, by analogy with the living body—the source of pleasure and pain.

In his paintings, Onyango also depicts celebrities, musicians, politicians and animals. A number of his pieces have been inspired by the future of the historic Kenyan city of Lamu, a car-free area, which the artists transforms into a bustling, full of busy multi-lane roads, new monumental bridges and runways.

Onyango’s most famous paintings are devoted to his relationship with Drosie. The prematurely deceased curvaceous white woman is represented in imaginary or real situations that compress all the fantasies Africa and the West projects onto each other. The characteristic feature of the paintings is notable psychological tension. Stylish Drosie, an upper-class lady in her Mercedes Benz and cowboy boots, found happiness with poor Richard, whose painting career began with these voyeuristic paintings. Whether depicting the couples’ alternating domination and submission or the fascination exercised by a life-style synonymous with luxury and wealth, Onyango succeeds in inverting stereotypes and denouncing their inherent violence.

The exhibition at TRAFO is rounded off with Łukasz Jastrubczak’s film Kangalika—short story of Richard Onyango and Onyango’s music. The autobiographical essay “The Rise & Fall of Richard Onyango”, published by Binyavanga Wainaina through the legendary printing house Kwani?, concludes the show. Onyango tells the story of his life—from the beginning, when he played music on the Kenyan Coast, through his status of Drosie’s lover, to achieving the position of a famous artist.

Richard Onyango (born 1960 in Kisii, Kenya)—a self-taught visual artist working primarily with the medium of painting. He creates sculptures—models. He writes and tells stories about his life and composes music. Before he gained fame, Onyango performed an extraordinary range of professions: sign painter, bus driver, carpenter, fashion designer, musician, furniture manufacturer, farmer and animal trainer.

Onyango’s works have been showcased, among others, at the International Venice Biennale (2003), as well as key exhibitions of contemporary African art, including: When We See Us. A Century of Black Figuration in Painting at Kunstmuseum Basel and Zeitz MOCAa Cape Town (2023–24), 100% Africa at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2006), African Art Now at the Museum of Fine Art Houston (2005), Africa Remix at the Hayward Gallery London, the Mori Art Museum Tokyo, the Center Georges Pompidou Paris and the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf (2004–06). His solo shows include: the MAMCO Geneva, the Salvatore Ala Gallery New York City, or the Fabbrica Eos Milan. A number of Onyango’s works are held in the prestigious Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC) in Geneva, founded by Jean Pigozzi.

Richard Onyango collects and converts unique vintage cars with the intention of exhibiting them, alongside his art collection, at the museum he plans to set up in Malindi in the future.

Kangalika announces a future transdisciplinary exhibition on Afrofuturism worldwide, co-held by TRAFO Center for Contemporary Art in Szczecin and the National Museum in Szczecin.

Coordination: Anna Sienkiewicz-Rogaś, Marta Walaszek / Partner: The National Museum in Szczecin.

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June 6, 2024

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