I see water as an element of life that represents itself in its truest form. It’s tasteless, colourless, odorless, shapeless. Honestly expressing oneself is sometimes the most difficult thing. To empty the mind and be formless like water. Form in itself is restrictive. Being formless helps me mirror my experiences from people I meet, to the places I go, movies I’ve watched and so on.
Ekene Stanley Emecheta
The Breeder is pleased to present Ekene Stanley Emecheta’s first solo exhibition in Europe. “Truthful waters” introduces viewers to Emecheta’s distinctive use of color and compositional technique and his iconography of figures drawn from both fantasy, history and his private world. Each canvas starts with the intentional elimination of the protagonist’s skin color, over which Emecheta frames the subject’s posture and characteristics. Diverting the attention away from the skin color, he draws our focus to the figure itself and its surroundings broadening the interpretation and inviting the viewer to become physically and emotionally invested in the subject’s story.
In this new body of paintings, Emecheta works with the concept of duality and puts into test heterogeneous principles such as perception and reality, justice and injustice, the private and the public, self-determination and hetero-determination. The works presented here are drawn from the artist’s life and experiences blurring the lines between the personal and the political. Guardian Angel depicts an aspect of Emecheta’s personal biography through a filter of fiction. The painting portrays a carefully arranged family scene of the artist’s mother and sister taken from an old family album. The subjects are portrayed in stillness and often look captured in time like a fainted memory or dream.
At the heart of the exhibition, we are confronted by two paintings which seem to depict peaceful everyday scenes, yet a closer look reveals an underlying tension. In Behind The Bushes II the pastor’s unfit collar and the cigarette he offers to the young man symbolize his corruption and it’s the artist’s commentary on how African religion misuses its power to control people. In Free Spirit a young man in partial nudity is proudly positioned in a public place. The painting’s subject is free, existing in a state where his inner and outer self harmonize, expressing his truest nature. This work is also a remark on Africa’s politics around sexual identity and self-expression. Like the young man in Behind the Bushes II, the protagonist of Free Spirit questions the confinements and restrictions placed by religion.
In Swimmer Man, the exhibition’s larger work, we are presented with a leisure scene of a black man celebrating himself and enjoying his life. However, the fragility of the pool’s water alludes to the fact that this is merely a phantasy and only a very small percentage of black men get to experience a life like that. The protagonist is depicted here with the hands behind his neck and it is the posture of his hands which seems to suggest that the majority of young black men are often targeted or looked suspiciously at by the police. This piece stands as an emblem of how life should be for everyone, not only for the lucky ones. Like other key Emecheta paintings, the work also posits a deeper sense of hope and possibility telling a larger story of the Black experience; one that is steeped in joy, confidence and celebration.
Born in 1994, Ekene Stanley Emecheta is a self-taught artist, living and working in Lagos. His work was recently featured in the exhibition Black Voices: Friend of my Mind at Ross-Sutton gallery, New York, USA (2021). The Breeder Gallery presented for the first time Emecheta’s works at Fiac Online Viewing Room in March 2021 followed by Frieze NY Viewing Room in May
Ekene Stanley Emecheta, Swimmer Man, 2021, oil on canvas , 152.4 x 213.36 cm, © the artist, Courtesy The Breeder, Athens