On the occasion of Ajarb Bernard Atwega’s first solo exhibition in France, AFIKARIS Gallery’s 130 m2 Paris space turns into a beauty salon. Kwata Saloon, presented from August 28—September 28, 2021, pays tribute to the ephemeral hair salons popping up each year in Cameroon between November and December, and from which Atwega’s new body of work draws its inspiration.
August 28–September 28, 2021
August 2, 2021 (Paris, France) – After having brought visitors to the mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Cameroonian painter Jean David Nkot’s [email protected] (May 29—July 7, 2021) and reflected on power by confronting the gazes of John Madu and Ousmane Niang (Figures of Power, July 10—August 24, 2021), AFIKARIS Gallery turns to the site of a cultural and social practice that binds generations and genders alike: hair salons. Kwata Saloon unveils a new body of work by Ajarb Bernard Atwega (b. 1988, Kumba, Cameroon), focusing on hairstyling as a source of social connection. On view from August 28—September 28, 2021, the gallery transforms into an immersive beauty parlor as the large, acidic canvases and smaller portraits that populate its walls – echoing the posters traditionally displayed in salons and the headshots shared on social networks – project scenes of togetherness, conviviality, and cultural bonding.
This new series bears witness to a thematic evolution in the art of Atwega, who continuously feeds his iconography with scenes from his daily life in Douala, Cameroon. While his latest series had drawn him to the lush local markets, where the women selling fruits and vegetables were dressed in simple and sober clothes, Kwata Saloon presents them adorned with lavish outfits, sporting flawless hairstyles. Extending beyond individuals to signified places, he turns this time to the beauty salons, as sites and the people that inhabit them once gain fuse across his canvases. Ategwa points to the allure and radiating beauty of his characters, whom he confers with a new, effusive presence.
The vivid colors spurting under Atwega’s brushes pay tribute to the pop aesthetic, mirroring the heat and bustle of Douala, where the artist lives. He homes in on a distinct social phenomenon, anchoring it in the socioeconomic and political context of Cameroon through the very aesthetics of his personal artistic style. In A family something (2021), he draws attention to the familial nature of the process, literally and broadly, highlighting the many generations, genders and strands of society involved. In a moment of togetherness and intimate yet culturally shared family time, two brothers braid their sister’s hair while the other sibling observes the scene. Calling to the contemporary specificity of this custom, the vibrant colors conceal a recognizable urbanism and the markers of a both local and global consumption society.
Douala 24 December (2021) is a glimpse into a beauty salon in Douala on Christmas Eve. The viewer is directly plunged in the intimacy of the hair salon. Barely perceptible from a distance, a fine white line delicately strings from a lock of hair into the skilled fingers of the weaver. The finesse of the thread – one that will carry the complex and weighty structure of the headdress – draws the attention of the viewer to the technicality of the action. Their bodies adorned with swathes of colored dots, the voluptuous figures contrast with the flat areas that compose the surrounding environment. Testifying to the artist’s concern with detail and compositional skill, the canvas ultimately captures the bustle of a celebratory moment, a distinct snippet of family life tainted with anticipation and tenderness.
“I confer my colors with a very personal, yet perhaps shared symbolic layer. Blue evokes the sea and calls to Douala, Kribi, and Kimbe. Yellow invokes the sun and points to the north of Cameroon. On the other hand, in using red and brown, I hint at the conflicts that have been plaguing the western regions for the past five years. Bathed in these colors, my characters inhabit the reality of their lived environment. Yet, by depicting them as such, I seek to liberate them from the duress of their everyday lives, instead paying homage to small moments of raw joy and broad solidarity.” – Ajarb Bernard Ategwa.
Mirroring these ephemeral salons, the exhibition space is revisited as a beauty parlor where vibrant shampoo bottles, plastic combs and magazines cohabit with the glow of Ategwa’s paintings. Organized as part of Kwata Saloon, a parallel program involving hair weaving and manicures will be unveiled ahead of the exhibition.
About Ajarb Bernard Ategwa: Ajarb Bernard Atwega (b. 1988, Kumba, Cameroon) is a multidisciplinary artist who works and lives in Douala, Cameroon. Fascinated with drawing and painting since his youth, he is a self-taught artist. Mainly made in acrylic, his graphic paintings play with simplified forms and the intensity of colors as he offers a local perspective on modes of self-representation in Cameroon today. The style and composition of his images are reminiscent of post-independence African black-and-white studio photography. While the latter call to the work of Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita, his use of framing and well-defined identities references the more contemporary influences of image-fused social networks. Ajarb Bernard Atwega’s work has been presented widely in Cameroon, including at the National Museum of
Yaounde (World Bank Exhibition 2019, curated by Simon Njami), and was recently acquired by the Pérez Art Museum Miami. It has also been featured in numerous major international fairs such as FIAC (Paris); Art Basel (Miami, Hong Kong); and Frieze (London). Kwata Saloon, presented at AFIKARIS Gallery, Paris, from August 28— September 28, 2021, is the artist’s first solo exhibition in France.
About AFIKARIS Gallery, Paris:
Founded in 2018 by Florian Azzopardi, AFIKARIS Gallery started as an online platform and showroom specialized in the work of both emerging and established artists from African and its diaspora, before opening a dedicated Paris-based gallery space in 2021. Engaged in promoting cross cultural and disciplinary exchange, AFIKARIS acts as a platform for artists to engage with the wider public. A mirror onto and space for reflection on the contemporary African art scene, it provides artists with a space to address the topical local and international issues at the heart of their art. AFIKARIS’s curated program includes group and solo exhibitions; art fairs; publications; as well as institutional partnerships.
Kwata Saloon | August 28—September 28, 2021
38 rue Quincampoix
75004 Paris, France