Where Hope Sits (2020)
Barry Yusufu is a self-taught Nigerian artist who creates portraits of his acquaintances from his hometown in various social settings to document and tell his people’s stories. He refers to his contemporary expressionist style “Kolo Art,” which stands for “sane madness,” and serves as the leader of an art movement called “The Kolony.” In his paintings, the artist often employs boldly colored backgrounds that stand in sharp contrast with the subtly rendered facial expressions of the figures, which produces an eerie juxtaposition of flatness and three-dimensionality.
The same contrast is used in Where Hope Sits, in which a female figure sits on a blue pedestal wearing a patterned teal dress next to a vase with a white flower, holding a yellow face mask. Rather than depict the folds and creases of the dress, however, Yusufu paints the dress as a single, patterned shape, while the face is rendered realistically with a clear source of light. The dramatic contrast between light and dark, as well as the circular shape around the face, recalls historical portraiture used to advance Catholicism throughout the Western civilization. Yusufu thus transforms a traditional genre with a contemporary outlook, bringing his practice into wider conversations in the history of art.