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GIDEON APPAH Two Men Having a Smoke 2020-2021

Two Men Having a Smoke
Oil and acrylic on canvas
78 by 78 in. 198.1 x 198.1 cm.

Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes is Gideon Appah’s newly commissioned exhibition for the ICA. These paintings merge the artist’s interests in Ghanaian popular culture with his own imagination, dreams, and fantasies. Newspaper clippings, entertainment posters, and films spanning the 1950s through the ’80s become source material for Appah’s explorations of the rise and fall of Ghanian cinema and leisure culture. The cycle of cultural memory—from heyday to bygone—is depicted in a series of portraits of illustrious and forgotten figures.

The paintings include striking scenes from public and private life. From dapper, club-going men as seen in Hyped Teen (2021) and Bliss (2020-21) to solitary figures of the theater painting series (2021); from nude people in vibrant landscapes in Nude Boy (2021) to the quiet, domestic scenes of A Woman Drowned in Water (2021) and Man in Bed (2021) Appah presents people at various stages of personhood, from their most arresting public selves to their most intimate private moments, at times even blurring the lines between the living and the dead.

Electric hues of blue, purple, and yellow give off the sensation of life at its fullest, while thick muddier compositions of gold, brown, and black portray eerie scenes, like a skull floating on stage in Skull (Right) (2021). Throughout Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes, Appah presents scenes suggesting a cycle of life: the brand new, the old, and the dying. 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 a void space.

One central work in the exhibition, ROXY 2 (2021), harkens back to Ghana’s famous Roxy Cinema, in Accra, the capital city. Placing figures in a recognizable architectural space, this work and others serve as an homage to Ghana’s old cinema houses, which were once at the center of social life, particularly during the country’s struggle for independence from colonial rule in the 1950s and ’60s. Popular Ghanian films, like The Boy Kumasenu (1952), I Told You So (1970), and Kukurantumi: Road to Accra (1983), sometimes serve as source material for environments and characters within these paintings. For Appah, these popular films allow the artist to grasp the ways in which cultural appetite evolves over time, creating memories that define peoples and cultures.

Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes is Appah’s first institutional solo exhibition, curated by the ICA’s Curator Amber Esseiva.