Yonamine, PARLA_MUTE, Installation view at Michael Janssen Berlin, Photo: Studio Lepkowski
Filled with the street, the gallery space turns into a territory for radical graphic statements. Here, the pictorial and the verbal are mixed with a daring charisma. Here, work in progress is the only permanent state of things. Here, the totality of the installation envelops the spectator in the mythos of the street protest as the wall becomes a platform for expressing ideas that have been violently muted.
For PARLA_MUTE, Angolan artist Yonamine “took over” the gallery space, transforming it into his studio where he worked for several weeks. A spatial diary, the show merges the personal with the political: posters, silkscreens and large scale collages reflect a fragmented reality, observed as if through pieces of a broken mirror. In Yonamine’s works, the figurative emerges from the abstract, expressionism fits within a poster and conceptual conceits live side by side with graphic art, providing the viewer with snippets of a process in constant flux, in which layers are constantly added or shed. Inspired by street dialogue, with a focus on post-colonial African art, his multimedia installations transmit the urgency of political nonconformity, which refuses to accept social inequality as a universal norm. The wordplay in the title refers to the oppressive practice in authoritarian countries of silencing opinions opposed to the official regime. In the artist’s own words, PARLA_MUTE is a parliament without a voice, a “cultural asphyxia in search of intellectual oxygen, filled with chaos and hope.”
Yonamine uses the poster, one of the most favored paste-up formats, to confront political and societal ideas about identity, beauty standards and moral choices both on the European and African continents. Juxtaposing the World Food Program stencil with the “Organise or STARVE” print, the Angolan artist subvertises the ambiguous neoliberal agenda of the Western world. The Eurovision song contest logo appears as a symbol of eurocentrism that encourages cultural diversity only within the frame of European values. Was ist schön? — what is beautiful? The question is open for debate as The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. The title of the 1968 novel by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah ironically interplays with the headline of Zimbabwe tabloid NewsDay, “CHIWENGA WIFE MOCKS GRACE”. While the book tells a story about the moral struggles of a nameless protagonist, who refuses to a bribe at work, the newspaper refers to Marry Chiwenga, the ex-wife of the Vice President of Zimbabwe, who was charged with fraud and money laundering. Another crucial literary reference, a protagonist quote of the show — It‘s expensive to be poor — belongs to James Baldwin. The piece that now forms a part of PARLA_MUTE was hand-painted by a craftsman in one of African markets at the request of Yonamine, who put up posters with this ambiguous message in the busiest and wealthiest parts of Berlin, articulating an idea that was true sixty years ago and remains just as relevant today.
Highbrow and lowbrow, political gossips and references from serious literature —clashing identities and cultures in an unexpected way, Yonamine creates a “ghetto style” installation that looks deliberately raw, unfinished and constantly fluctuating. The strong temporal dimension of Yonamine’s works invites the viewer to move through the exhibition, morphing with it, in order to grasp the fleeting sense of things. In a gallery transformed into a studio, where the floor is covered with silkscreens and rolled posters are stored in the corner, what the artist shares with the visitor is not the product but the process. The untamed creative flow encourages a confident conversation, turning the blank silent wall into a parliament for those who have never before had a chance to be heard.