There’s More Than What the Eye Witnesses
Installation image credit: Jeff McLane
Opening reception: Saturday, May 13, 4 – 6PM
Vielmetter Los Angeles is pleased to announce our first solo exhibition by Ghanaian painter Kwesi Botchway, "There's More Than What the Eye Witnesses." On view from May 13 through June 24, 2023, the solo exhibition marks the artist’s first in the United States.
"It is a Black gaze that shifts the optics of 'looking at' to a politics of 'looking with, through, and alongside another.”
– Tina Campt, “A Black Gaze: Artist Changing How We See”
Kwesi Botchway's solo exhibition "There's More Than What the Eye Witnesses" is an exploration of a Black gaze. His first presentation with Vielmetter Los Angeles, the exhibition consists of eighteen oil and acrylic paintings and an installation of orange wooden framed mirrors sourced from Accra, Ghana. In Botchway’s compositions, the act of seeing becomes a material, geographic, and refracted meditation wherein both figure and audience are bound in a series of echoes, nearing infinity, create a serializing effect of vantage. Each work centers on a domestic scene and a figure, (or figures), whose back frames the canvas and whom we, the audience, encounter as they look into a mirror. This relationship between plane and proximity, audience and figure, and the matter of sight permeates the works on view in the exhibition.
Of particular interest are Botchway’s figures themselves and the notion of what Tina Campt names as "a Black gaze….a mode of spectatorial mediation that demands particularly active modes of watching, listening, and witnessing”. Botchway's figures are painted with his signature use of deep black undertones and winding purple brushstrokes which rest atop the skin akin to tattoos, and poppy sclera, appearing in various states of dress, attending to the pleasure of looking upon oneself. In “The Night Is Young, Can't Take My Eyes Off Myself”, “Obsessed With Yellow Gold”, and “Self Gaze 1”, pleasure is imbued in a pursed smile and crinkle contractions at the edge of eyes and raised curves in the corners of mouths. Figures are adorned with cascading scarlet hair and shimmering gowns; gold teeth and gold watches residing in rooms with vanities skewed with makeup and the ubiquitous, orange-painted wood framed mirrors from markets in Ghana.
Botchway's scenes are still glimpses into a kinetic moment, confirmation of presence before the instant shifts—to dressing, leaving, laughing, etc.—again. What Botchway’s refracted portraits capture and what his figures attend to is the potential within a Black gaze. A looking that affirms Black being and presence in excess of dominance, a gaze that resides in the multiplicity and complexity of Black life, a gaze that asserts possibility. Botchway's figures do not merely look back onto the viewer or take an oppositional glance; rather, their domestic scenes and their eyes are positioned via an internal process in which the viewer is acknowledged through the direct gaze framed by a mirror. The structure of each portrait shows the mirror askew or in partial view allowing the canvas to hold a glimpse of an otherwise larger scene and thus a perceived peak rather than an objectifying presentation of someone's world.
In the paintings “We Are In This Together” and “A Fine Night In A Blue Room”, the figure's gaze and the scene composition hold the prospect of the viewer as an agent in seeing, shifting the notion of the Black subject as an object instead of asserting that these Black people see you too. The engagement here is a haptic one where touch and sensation are imbued in each work and by the particulars of the viewing audience, creating a productive tension—within seeing.
Also on view in the exhibition are mirror-based installations; omnipresent in West Africa but particularly drawn from Botchway’s home country, Ghana, they are presented here as the tactile touchpoint. The stretching of dimensions (Botchway takes us from 2D to 3D) and a rooting—through material, color, and sourcing (Botchway made a trip back to Accra to source these mirrors) —within the Black diasporic site.
The works included in "There's More Than What the Eye Witnesses" act as a site for active witnessing—an engagement between figure and viewer as a strategy to hold a critical fabulation of Black life.
Text by Essence Harden, curator and writer based in Los Angeles.
Kwesi Botchway was born in 1994, in Accra, Ghana — where he continues to live and work. He is the founder of WorldFaze in Accra, a studio and residency space that focuses on supporting young local artists. Kwesi studied art at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Accra before enrolling at the Academy of Visual Arts in Frankfurt, Germany. Botchway was nominated for the GUBA Awards USA as an Influential Artist in 2019, and has been featured in the NY Times, Financial Times, Flash Art, The Art Newspaper, ArtNews, and Frieze. His paintings are included in such public collections as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, the Vanhaerents Foundation, Belgium, the High Fashion Foundation, New York, the Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. A full-color catalog including a conversation between Kwesi Botchway, and curator Larry Ossei-Mensah will be published on the occasion of the exhibition.