The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (ICA at VCU) is pleased to announce Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes—the first institutional solo exhibition of Ghanaian artist Gideon Appah, on view from February 19 to June 19, 2022. Comprised of paintings, drawings and media ephemera, the artist’s latest body of work chronicles the cycle of cultural memory–from heyday to bygone–through a series of portraits featuring figures illustrious and figures forgotten. For these dynamic tableaus, Appah used newspaper clippings, entertainment posters and films spanning the 1950s through the 1980s as source materials to explore the rise and fall of Ghana’s cinema and leisure culture.
One central work in the exhibition, ROXY 2 (2021)—named in reference to Ghana’s famous Roxy Cinema, located in the capital city, Accra—emphasizes architecture as a vehicle for national remembrance. By placing figures at a recognizable site, this work and others pay homage to Ghana’s old cinema houses, spaces that were once at the center of social life, particularly during the country’s struggle for independence from colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s. Allusions to popular Ghanian films, including The Boy Kumasenu (1952), I Told You So (1970) and Kukurantumi: Road to Accra (1983), can also be located across Appah’s characters and environments, demonstrating the tangibility of the public imagination. These popular films allow the artist to grasp the ways in which cultural appetites evolve with time, rendering memories that continue to define the present.
The artist’s visual vernacular is traceable through striking scenes from public and private life, unraveling both intimate and collective forms of personhood. Appah’s transitory gaze gestures towards life’s cyclical nature, documenting scenes ranging from the dapper, club-going men seen in Hyped Teen (2021) and Bliss (2020-21) , to quiet, domestic scenes of A Woman Drowned in Water (2021) and Man in Bed (2021). 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 an amorphous void beneath. Amidst the desires for permanence traditionally associated with portraiture, Appah emphasizes the incommensurability that belies such representational aims; his depictions instead point to the processes of memory’s formation and reformation across time and space.
ABOUT GIDEON APPAH
Born in Ghana in 1987, Appah lives and works in Accra. His most recent solo show, Blue Boys Blues, was on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York in 2020. His works have also been exhibited internationally, including at Casa Barragan, Mexico City; Ghana Science Museum, Accra; Goethe Institute, Accra; KNUST Museum, Kumasi and Nubuke Foundation, Accra. His work is included in the collection of the Absa Museum, Johannesburg; Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, Marrakesh and Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto as well as private collections. He was shortlisted for the 2016 Kuenyehia Art Prize and 2022 Henrike Grohs Art Award.
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is a non-collecting institution that showcases a fresh slate of changing exhibitions and programs. The ICA is a place to explore new ideas, providing an open forum for dialogue and collaboration across the region and the world. Mirroring the increasing emphasis on cross-disciplinary studies across VCU, the ICA has created a new environment for artists and scholars from around the world to test ideas. As a university-wide resource, the ICA links campus, community and contemporary artists by supporting local creative communities, engaging an international network of contemporary artists and organizations and encouraging collaborations with VCU departments, faculty, students and the Richmond community. The ICA is a responsive institution that offers a broad range of artistic perspectives from across the world, with the goal of questioning assumptions and encouraging critical discourse. For more information on the ICA, please visit icavcu.org.
ABOUT VCU AND VCU SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
VCU is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. VCUarts is one of the top-ranked public art schools in the U.S. and offers degree programs across the visual and performing arts and design. VCUarts is housed within a major urban research university that has been recognized for its community-engaged research. Encouraging intellectual inquiry in and through the creative fields, VCUarts fosters rich, interdisciplinary collaborations between artists, designers, health practitioners and more.