Kura Shomali lives and works in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from which his collagiste approach derives. Evoking the chaos and complexity of this teeming metropolis, the second largest city in Africa, Shomali’s works appear fragmentary in form, composed of snatches of sights and sounds, embodying the life of the street.
Shomali has talked about depicting “passersby”, and each of his figures appears suddenly aware of being seen, spinning on a heel to face and pose for the artist, waggling revolvers that sprout flowers, teetering in dandyish heels, beaming astride a motorbike.
And yet even the figures themselves are, in a sense, collaged, many deriving from images by celebrated African photographers Seydou Keita, Samuel Fosso and Malick Sidibé, suggesting that the poses we see are learned ones, part of an alphabet of swagger.
Shomali’s images depict types, their faces obscured by collaged clusters or transfigured into symbols (globes, eyes, patterns), to create a collective portrait of a city where public behaviour is a matter of received visual cues, like trying on a new coat. And when his figures let their guard down, as in Untitled (Boxeur), they seem bamboozled, off-guard, blinking in the headlights.
Text by Ben Street