Makemba Kunle to exhibit at Arnim's Gallery

Artist Makemba Kunle. -
Artist Makemba Kunle. -

VETERAN artist Makemba Kunle promises his upcoming exhibition of drawings will excite and stun audiences.

The exhibit, entitled The Gathering Storm, will run from August 9-21 at Arnim’s Gallery, 27 Tragarete Road, Port of Spain.

Kunle said the Storm is a “suite” of drawings, ink on paper, "of a civilisation in the crisis of defeat," together with a selection of miniatures done between 2014 and 2021. The exhibition marks Kunle’s first showing in Port of Spain in just over six years, with the last being his retrospective The Unfolding of an Artist: Art, Aesthetics and Revolution at the National Museum and Art Gallery in 2014.

Kunle, artist-in-residence at Studio 66 Art Support Community in Barataria, told Newsday The Gathering Storm is based on work he has been doing over the years and during covid19 lockdown. It is all new work that has not been exhibited before.

Masquerader Posing -

It is his third exhibition of black and white drawings in pen and ink, which is one of his favourite media.

"(It is a) representation of things around me. I draw all the time – people, vibes, things I feel. (I am) Presenting the world as authentically as I see it."

He said The Gathering Storm includes drawings he had done to present for a Carnival band two years ago, but the production team was unable to produce it.

The medium

So what draws him to pen and ink?

"Drawings are my notes, notes that I use in order to do larger pieces which would be the paintings."

He said he has hundreds of drawings over the years, but for the drawings that will be exhibited, he tried to finish them as complete works in themselves and "not merely notes."

"I am showing some of my most successful ones."

Kunle said the covid19 lockdown gave him more time to work, as he is usually busy with his work for the Studio 66 community-based organisation and Caribbean Yard Campus, a network of Caribbean yards (community, grassroots, and traditional knowledge institutions) engaged in the practice, research and application of Caribbean culture in education, enterprise and development. But the studio was closed and the work continued mostly online.

Mas and Lock Dong -

"I had much more time to do the drawings," some of which he works on at the same time.

"Many of them would be failures. These would not be shown. Those that don't qualify for the wastebasket I still use as notes."

He estimate he keeps about in one in five of his drawings.

He said artist LeRoy Clarke, who died on July 27, inspired him to do more drawings.

"His drawings were one the first things I admired that he did. From since he did (his collection) Douens and even before.

"We were very close. I am mourning his death right now. I am mourning his passing and still trying to come to terms with it. We have lost a great man. People going around business as usual because we don't know what we have lost."

The themes

Kunle said The Gathering Storm might be reminiscent of his involvement in the 1970 Black Power Movement "and my optimism that people at some point in time, or over time, will once more be able to gather and to show their power not only in Trinidad and Tobago (but globally).

"All over the world more and more people are demanding more power and authority in their lives and over themselves and less 'foot on the neck' so to speak."

He said the exhibit will be very relevant to the emancipation process.

Another theme evident in the exhibit, he said, is a "civilisation in defeat."

The Year of the Plague -

"It is about ominous signs and portents and greed and injustices that have taken over the world, and how it is all coming back to haunt those who are here now. The savagery, deforestation – all the plagues overtaking us. They are all coming together to bring civilisation down, whether TT or the world.

"I just have to paint or draw what I see in the vision. It will be for others to say. I just paint it as I see it."

Kunle said there are about 200 pieces for the exhibition, though this may decrease while the show is being hung. He said about 90 per cent of the pieces are miniatures, some three inches by five inches and "very complex."

"I don't know what propels me to work in miniature. In my paintings I do pretty large paintings."

But he said there was a practical benefit from working in miniature.

"I can do it anywhere and surreptitiously without anybody recognising it is an artist drawing something. In public places, it is easy to hide."

The experience

Because of the covid19 restrictions the gallery will not be able to accommodate large numbers of people, so the launch will be small. But there will be an online display that will run throughout the exhibition and that can be viewed internationally.

"There are people from other parts of the world that would want to acquire work from it. It is the main way of marketing it."

Kunle will be in at the gallery on August 14, his 71st birthday, for a "mini-celebration."

The Storm -

He has shown twice in Barbados in recent years, on invitation, but this his first show in a gallery in Trinidad since 2014.

"It's a big occasion for me.

"I hope to stun them (the audience). It is a demonstration of skill, of ideas, of form. I would like to excite them and inspire the younger ones that we could do things well. I expect it to be a show of things well done."

About Makemba Kunle

Makemba Kunle was born at Old St Joseph Road in Laventille, on August 14, 1950, and grew up in Barataria. A former St Mary’s College student, he trained as a teacher at the Mausica Teachers Training College at Valsayn.

He served as NJAC’s artistic director for over 20 years, and has contributed to the formation and administration of artistic institutions such as the Caribbean Arts Community and Studio 66 Art Support Community.

He has published two books – a collection of illustrated short stories and The Caterpillar who Wanted to Fly.

This year marks his 50th year of involvement in revolution, art and development, and his contribution to the national community includes his 1997 role as artist-in-residence at the Pamberi Pan Theatre in San Juan, when he tutored youths in the theory and practice of artistic skills. He was honoured in 2014 with a retrospective at the National Museum.

Kunle’s works use pen and ink, acrylic and oil on canvas and paper, and Carnival is his point of reference. In recent years he has been the scenic and action set designer for Dimanche Gras, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain. He has also been set designer for Rawle Gibbons’ calypso musical Ah Wanna Fall, and set and costume designer for the closing ceremony of Carifesta XIV.


"Makemba Kunle to exhibit at Arnim’s Gallery"

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