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The Norval Foundation is pleased to present ‘Witness of My Time’, an exhibition dedicated to the works of Famakan Magassa, the 2023 Winner of the Norval Sovereign African Art Prize.

Famakan Magassa, les travailleuses de la nuit. Acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Norval Foundation.

Curated by Phokeng Setai, the exhibition highlights Magassa’s deeply personal and thought-provoking perspective on the stark realities of migration. Magassa’s artwork visually narrates the varied experiences of migrants striving for a better life abroad. Magassa’s body of acrylic-based paintings contain ten social vignettes, composed of stylised human caricatures, characterised in shades of reds, blues and turquoise, alluding to his subjects being both victims and perpetrators of injustice. These colours obscure any clear identification of the subject’s race, though gender is alluded to by the inclusion of stiletto shoes or boots. The remaining figures are barefoot; some have long necks and others not; yet all subjects have just three toes and three fingers on their hands. Most arresting, almost all these other-worldly figures have exaggerated red lips, sometimes with the occasional tooth and protruding tongue. Some figures pout, and some grimace, while others seem resigned or seductive.

Born and raised in Kita, a village 180 kilometres from Bamako, the capital of Mali, Famakan’s upbringing mirrored the experiences of countless postcolonial Africans, shaped by adversity and the fervent pursuit, experienced by many African migrants, for new opportunities elsewhere.

The artist’s deeply intimate exploration of the global phenomenon of travel restrictions was prompted by the challenges that he faced during his visa application process to travel to the United States, undertaken to participate in an artist’s residency program. Famakan’s protracted experience in being granted a visa provided him with an in-depth understanding of the complex difficulty of global travel.

Famakan’s exhibition serves as an act of self-reflection on his experience, and by extension, a broader socio-political statement to raise awareness of the challenges and dangers of social displacement in Africa and the rest of the world.

Famakan Magassa : Witness of My Time’ is curated by Phokeng Setai, and is available to view in Gallery Nine at Norval Foundation, from the 24th of August, 2023 to the 25th of January 2024. For more information, please visit the Norval Foundation.

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