Kenyan artist Chemu Ng’ok, celebrated for her abstracted figures and figurative forms, will now be represented by Goodman Gallery. As part of this announcement, Goodman Gallery recapped Ng’ok’s first institutional exhibition at Fondazione ICA Milano and her first solo exhibition in the UK with the gallery’s branch in London, where she presented paintings created during a recent residency at Gasworks.
“I am thrilled to be representing Chemu after eight years of being in conversation with her. Chemu’s exquisite process-based paintings are defined by a deeply intuitive approach to the bodily nature of mark-making, setting her apart as one of the next generation of important artists working today,” said Goodman Gallery’s owner and director Liza Essers.
Chemu Ng’ok, born 1989 in Nairobi, Kenya received her MFA from Rhodes University, Grahamstown in 2017 and was the recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s Visual and Performing Arts of Africa Masters Bursary in 2016. She is known to use painting and drawing to explore the sociopolitical, physical, and psychological aspects of human relationships.
“My practice is process-based. When I’m looking at a painting, I don’t really know how it’s going to end, so I just keep on painting and painting over time in terms of layers, colors, ideas, so the painting builds up on itself, trying to convey an emotion or idea onto the work. It’s longing for a certain moment that can’t really be captured. It’s a taste of something. It’s a craving,” Ng’ok said in video for her recent exhibition at Goodman Gallery.
“I think the body is a vulnerable space. It’s intimate, but at the same time it’s quite public, because you show the body to the world. It can contort. It can twist. It can jump. It can be still. So I feel like the body is such a fertile ground for contemplation, for ideas. There is the psychical part of the body, the skin, the tone, and also there is the psychological part of the body. What you see inside. How you feel, you know? Bodies occupy space and even bodies of color, black bodies, occupy space in a different way, depending on the geography of the place. You can look at it in terms of feminism. It’s just so wide and it’s so rich and I love it because I can paint it in a thousand different ways, you know, and express myself via the body.
Early last year, Chemu Ng’ok participated in a residency program at Gasworks from 9 January–27 March, 2024. While at the residency, the artist continued to explore these core contemplations in her practice, resulting in works created with energetic lines that contour and combine individual and collective bodies. These figures offer reflections on the body, its physicality, and its conceptual manifestation. Here, her linework becomes both the narrator and the interrogator of entrenched power structures.
Abstract bodies in a constant state of flux emerge and multiply across the length and breadth of the canvases, interrogating tensions from contemporary politics in Kenya and wider Africa. This amalgamation of the singular and communal has been a strategy Ng’ok has used throughout her practice to push against authority, systemic violence and the long-standing legacy of colonialism.
Recent solo shows include The Longing (2023) at Goodman Gallery in London, An impression that may possibly last forever (2023) at ICA Milano, Still Waters Run (2022) at Matthew Brown Gallery in Los Angeles and An Enigma (2021) at CENTRAL FINE in Miami Beach.
Recent group presentations include The ‘t’ is Silent (2022) at the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Deurle, Belgium; Central Sounds (2022) at Luhring Augustine in New York; Fire Figure Fantasy (2022) at the ICA Miami; There is Always One Direction (2021-2022) at The de la Cruz Collection in Miami; Aletheia (2021) at CENTRAL FINE in Miami and Songs for Sabotage (2018) at the New Museum Triennial in New York.