Noah Jemisin “Mystique of the African Woman: The Anyeleh series”

Skoto Gallery

poster for Noah Jemisin “Mystique of the African Woman: The Anyeleh series”
[Image: Noah Jemisin "Anyeleh series" (2013) encaustic on canvas, 31x22 in.]

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Skoto Gallery presents Mystique of the African Woman; The Anyeleh series, an exhibition of recent paintings by Noah Jemisin.

Noah Jemisin’s recent work exudes exuberant energy and vitality, compositional complexity and a high degree of originality. He explores issues of identity and black femininity through visual symbols and metaphors, drawing on a wide range of artistic inspirations, the culture of his surroundings and mastery of the encaustic technique which was inspired by his earlier familiarity with use of the watercolor and gouache mediums, the free –flowing capriciousness of the water much like the hot wax. He exploits figurative images for non-narrative purposes - they do not tell a story, nor do they provide a description of a situation, they are pictorial discoveries that often release associations in the observer through the power of their expressiveness. His extensive travels in Africa, Europe and Asia have helped him to develop an approach to life and art that enables him to synthesize into a distinct and dynamic whole the various components of his identity and create work that strives to make meaning of his personal history as well as the ambiguities and contradictions of contemporary culture. There is a great deal of critical experience, of knowledge and admiration of art historical precedents in his work as well as an ever sensitive deftly balanced interaction between modernism’s formal concern’s with a belief in the emotive potential of painting.

Included in this exhibition is a selection of fourteen strong works from the artist’s ongoing Mystique of the African Woman: The Anyeleh series that strives to extend the range of painting as expressive poetry while simultaneously paying homage to the strength, resilience and vitality of the African woman in her encounters with history and the realities of modern society. Although the figure is recognizable as a woman, no hint is given of her character or background as the artist’s concern here is not so much with evoking personality as to manifest them, to conjure them into existence. The arrangement of form, line and color gives the effect of a body coming together and falling apart. His belief that the spiritual and physical selves are inseparable is reflected in his ability to further explore expressions inherent but still hidden in his intricately layered and textured pictures infused with nuanced, often coded gestures exulting aspects of black culture. Noah Jemisin is always engaged in investigation of new materials and techniques as an integral part of his search for a new visual language, in the process he makes images that are pure inventions and full of new meanings. Performance art, spectacle, theatre, music, dance and masquerade are influences and artistic manifestation that also run parallel to his creative vision as an artist. The fluid and improvisational qualities of the encaustic medium, which he has mastered for over 30 years, combined with an abiding feeling about the sanctity of artistic creation allow for a high degree of proficiency in his work - he applies the encaustic to the canvas by brushing, pouring and tilting, allowing the molten wax to run into desired and incidental configurations, enabling him to effect immediately, the desired density.

Noah Jemisin was born in Birmingham, AL and obtained an MFA degree from University of Iowa, in 1974. He is a widely exhibited artist. Solo exhibitions include Just Above Midtown Gallery, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, 22 Wooster Gallery, Myungsook Lee Gallery, Minor Injury Gallery, Broadway Windows, all in New York City, Lattuada Studio, Milan, Italy, the Hillwood Art Museum, the College of Charleston (a retrospective) and the Oswego New York Museum. He is in numerous public and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Library of Congress, Washington DC, the Museum of Art at the University of Iowa, Montclair Museum of Art, Museum of Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Miami-Dade Public Library, Florida. Awards include New York Foundation for the Arts, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, travel grant from Arts International, Artist in Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Bronx River Art Gallery, Bronx, New York.

Artist Statement

The Firstborn Daughter

Their arrogance is only skin deep.
The God Almighty knew exactly what he was doing when he made you black.
If black people knew the past they would be more inclined to respect themselves.
Marcus Garvey

The Hindu and Buddhist call the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, Karma. With the suggestion that karma may somehow even help in deciding their fate in future existences, understanding each artist creates out of a personal necessity. And that they do it because they can’t help themselves, because they simply have to. Out of a need to satisfy the urge to shape the world to their own experiences and understanding of life and nature, their works can only be described as them facing their own karma. For this reason I haven’t the slightest doubt that this group of paintings were somehow fated, preordain to me before I even arrived on this plane.

The Anyeleh series was inspired by a chance meeting of a woman with the perfect African body at an African music concert. A body I had been in search of for a number of years, and a vehicle with which to express the charm and grace, the strengths and endurable richness of the offspring of the mystical African Egyptian goddess Nut. And in addition, the progenitor of the DNA Black Eve that all human beings possess; in the one and only race that really matters – “The Human Race.”

From two or three rows back in the audience, the archetypical body hit me like a ton of bricks, reminding me of the serendipitous quality to life. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her back. I’d seen individual attributes of her in other black women, but to see, visually the dignity, the long upright bearing, the angularity, and the rich proud blackness of color, was like a thunderbolt shot straight from the lightning anvil of the Yoruba god Shango. Here was my grandmother, my first girlfriend (who gave me my first touch of spring), and eventually “My Love Supreme”. All encapsulated in one being. I knew immediately I had to use the creature to aid me in my search for the underlying truth, harmony and order of life. Absent mankind’s version: “If you can’t believe the original, who can you believe” I thought? I had faith that she would help me rediscover and convey the dignity inherent in myself, as well as black people. And perhaps in the process inspire a new personal language or dialogue with which to show human beings that we are still a part of nature, still creatures on the sick planet earth. Not divorce from it and each other in this mad dash towards oblivion.

Being aggressive for one of the few times in my life, I approached the young lady and told her “you have a magnificent African body.” Graciously, she said “thanks.” which gave me hope. After assuring her that I wasn’t making a pass I gave her my email address and told her that if she’d like to make a little extra money, it would be an honor to employ her as a model for a few sessions. “Between the two of us we could accomplish great things” I explained. Informing her that art constituted a very potent force that could be used to change things for the better, and that every artist works normally speaks to his cultural norms; mores, essential characteristics, customs and beliefs of his community. Hence, I was soliciting her aid in giving me the opportunity to define our culture, no less.

The paintings in this exhibition will testify to whether or not we accomplished our goals. But the two of us put forth every effort when I reminisce back to those days. I assured her “I would never do anything disrespectful towards her or to denigrate the people that I love.” Though raised in Texas, the young student’s family had migrated from Ghana in West Africa and still had deep roots there. A member of the Ga tribe, she straddles both the African and African-American continents. In her tribe the name Anyeleh is traditionally given to the firstborn daughter of a family. I reassured her that her personal identity would remain anonymous if she decided in the affirmative, and as I walked away I prayed that she would take me up on my offer.

Noah Jemisin
Brooklyn, New York, 2019

Ode To The Black Woman

You, you, you
Disgraced, degraded, debased, but desired
Awesome in your accouterments
Challenging all artists to “get it right”
As your deep curves and natural melody
Render them light headed and confused

You, you, you
Of thick, purple Nina Simone lips
Those swollen grapes/aged in the cellars
Of your womanhood/like rare wine
Sending lesser lips in search of collagen
Twisting those same lips in pain and ecstasy

You, you, you
Of magnificent loins that rode in Pharaoh’s carriage
From which Semitic tribes first sprung
Of grace and nobility and mystery
The symmetry and architecture of your backsides
As the archetype pattern for all that follow

You, you, you
Sheba, Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Ishtar, Salome
Why have they made you so white?
(the hidden hand)
Jewel in the great crown of humankind.

You, you, you
The rhythm of your body movements
Reflect and concur with earth’s orbit
Lover, Giver of life, for with whom nature conspires
Juju woman, Keeper of secrets, Holy Ghost woman

You, you, you
First teacher, Poised without posing
Nappy, kinky, curly, natural, Black magic hair
Blueblack, purpleblack, dark chocolate, paper bag brown,
banana yellow, high blue vein yellow

You, you, you
Autobiography of the female body/breast that fed nations
Laughing, crying, moaning blues and hymns. Dignified, Proud
Seer, Knower, Reader, Healer, Nurturer, Sensitive, Resolute
You, you, you, your smile is of the warmth of the sun.

You, you, you
Bitch/Goddess Queen, comfort yourself in all that you are
And all that you have endured

Seneca Turner
Early Fall 2017



from April 11, 2019 to May 25, 2019

Opening Reception on 2019-04-11 from 18:00 to 20:00


Noah Jemisin

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