By PAUL LASTER, May 2021
Celebrated for his lively Neo-Pop Art paintings of contemporary African dandies, the Cameroon artist Anjel, who was born Boris Anje in 1993, continues his colorful exploration of fashionable black scenesters in the exhibition “Afro Seduction,” his second solo show with OOA Gallery, which will also be part of the Barcelona gallery’s presentation in the virtual art fair 1-54 New York Online.
Working from hand-picked photos of stylish young men and women, Anjel modifies their outfits by changing the colors and textures, alters the light sources to deepen the shadows and heighten the reflections, and contextualizes his striking black subjects in the realms of global consumerist culture and African symbolism.
“I want to give value to the black body,” Anjel declared from his studio in the Cameroon coastal city of Douala. “I’m trying to give some kind of attention, some kind of attraction, to the person of color.”
New to Anjel’s recent body of work is his use of symbols from the Adinkra alphabet, which is a contemporary way of writing some of the languages spoken in Ghana and Ivory Coast, including Akan, Dagbani, Ewe and Ga. The Adinkra symbols are sometimes utilized in the logo designs of entrepreneurial brands, where the symbols are used to represent sayings, proverbs or concepts, such as wisdom, strength, unity, wealth, love and peace.
In his canvases The Power of Love I and II (2021), a shirtless black man sports the Adinkra symbol that relates to the title of the paintings like a tattoo on his pumped-up chest. Assuming a thuggish pose with his blue jean jacket hanging off his shoulders and his Calvin Klein briefs exposed by his open pants, he proudly confronts the viewers, as more power of love symbols float around him like kisses being blown in his direction by devoted fans.
Similarly, the paintings Gods Supremacy I and II (2021) depict a blouseless black woman in a green jean jacket and hot pink slacks. An Adinkra symbol implying the supremacy of god is silkscreened in white—bouncing around the composition like shifting targets in a shooter video game. Enveloped in fashion logos, the pictured temptress primps her sizable Afro with both hands in the first version and holds her balance on one leg while elegantly touching her hair and elevated high heel shoe in version two.
A handsome black male, flaunting a blue jean jacket with pictures of the musician and Pan-Africanist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti on it, is also repeated in the paintings Duafe of Fela (Beauty of Fela) and Greatness is Within (both 2021), which graphically mix fashion logos and African symbols in contrasting pink and green colors in the surrounding ground. Meanwhile, another fashionable dude—wearing a black and white outfit, gold chains and a bucket hat—shoots the peace symbol like he’s just jumped out of a limo and stopped to pose on a step-and-repeat stage in the dynamic Ying and Yang (2020).
Pushing his imaginative painting style even further, The Black Widow (2021) presents a dramatic dark skin seductress with short blue hair striking a pose in a black sheer lace top and a green satin and chiffon skirt. Lifting her arms in a dance-like move, she visually stands out against a geometrically divided background of Louis Vuitton logos and bold colors. Overlaid with wax transfer images of a wide tooth comb, which is the Adinkra symbols for beauty and personality, the painting says black is beautiful with an exclamation point.
Going deeper into the realm of Afropunk, Anjel takes the ideas that he explored with a new generation of sapeurs, who were inspired by old school Congolese dandies, to exciting new heights. Employing gorgeous black bodies decked out in stylish street fashions as the subjects for his vibrant paintings, he creates complex canvases that open our minds while equally enticing our eyes. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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