Henry James once wrote of Paris as a jewel, a city where what “seemed all surface one moment seemed all depth the next.” The same might be said for the ecstatic portraits of Nelson Makamo (b. 1982): rather than capture a single aspect of his subjects, he reveals their many facets, changed by the cast of light or by who is looking. In drawings, watercolors, monotypes, and oil paintings, the Johannesburg-based artist portrays children, his young cousin Mapule Maoto as well as strangers and acquaintances, often from his native province of Limpopo, South Africa—in all the complexity with which he encounters them. Radiant marks in explosive, varied colors cohere into the gestalt of Black faces. While Makamo is drawn to the simplicity and hopefulness that imbues the child’s perspective, we also see in his faces the glimmers of hesitation, generosity, skepticism, grace, vulnerability, distraction, patience, and eagerness. That is, we see the abundance of what is always just behind the eyes, and in that abundance, a universality.
In several of the works, wonderfully bright, oversized eyeglasses emphasize the act of seeing and the impact of being seen. “I believe that art can make you look at someone differently,” he told writer Enuma Okoro, “and I’ve always wondered, if we ignore other people, and fail to see them, can we still truly see ourselves?” Taking a cue from the openness of his subjects, Makamo works intuitively, without blueprint, foregrounding expression and experimentation in his practice. At Makasiini, Makamo will present his first exhibition comprising entirely of portraits. All but one were completed in 2021, since the pandemic, carrying with them a new appreciation for the intimacy and distance that together make up our conception of one another. Nelson Makamo, lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
~ Annie Godfrey Larmon
Image and text used with courtesy of Makasiini Contemporary (Turku, Finland) and Annie Godfrey Larmon (USA).
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Intra'Byte #1 ~ mak. It has been an interesting week with a couple of artists out there whom I had the privilege of knowing sharing significant developments in the developments of their career trajectories. On the eve of Freedom Day, Azael Langa revealed via Facebook that he was in Cape Town. At least that’s what the minimal text and the image on his wall announced to the world. It remains unclear whether the artist is moving to the coastal city permanently or that he will be a sojourner. It makes one wonder what kind of influence the Cape will exert on his art during this indefinite period in his artistic ascendancy. We should not dismiss the strong possibility that he too is capable of exerting some influence as an artist and depending on how long his stay there will last, he will surely leave some traces. Back inland just a few hours ago Nkhensani Rihlampfu, with the memory of Mintsu Island, his recent solo show still fresh in our minds, announced that he was this year’s Turban Art Fair Fresh Produce Artist Mentor. An opportunity which he too benefitted from as a mentee a few years ago, the artist remarked via his Facebook page. Here is evidence that social investments have returns. 26 - 29 April