29 October – 3 November 2018
A&D Gallery, Marylebone, London W1U 6LY
Opening: Tuesday 30 October, 6 – 9 pm
About the exhibition
Kimberley Gundle’s latest solo exhibition at A&D gallery, ‘Personal Encounters’ brings together work from the past decade of Gundle’s practice captivated by the Maasai people - the seminomadic pastoralists of East Africa. The works on display in the ‘Personal Encounters’ exhibition depict a selection of women from the noble tribe, taking the form of cameo portraiture, ceramic and bronze sculpture, watercolour painting and mixed media drawing, celebrating the Maasai culture and tradition that the women embody. Gundle draws on her cross-cultural heritage and questions the role of the fine artist today as the observer. As a globalised nation, how do we encounter cultures, and what direct impact does this have on the way societies interpret themselves, and each other? The exhibition is a continuation from Gundle’s 2017 seminal installation ‘A Reflection on Preservation of the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania’ shown at the Venice Biennale in the group exhibition ‘Personal Structures Open Boarders’ at Palazzo Bembo, Venice, Italy.
In 2009, Gundle first encountered the Maasai people on a charity walk, following in their footsteps across the Great Rift Valley which runs across Kenya and Tanzania. Gundle witnessed their struggle for survival during a terrible drought. Yet even in the face of extreme hardship, the women were magnificently adorned in ornate beadwork and flowing cloths. Gundle has since resided in many of these remote settlements, making drawings and taking photographs of the Maasai communities in both Kenya and Tanzania. The artist explains that she feels like an anthropologist, recording culture and tradition which is slowly being eroded by the changing world. Such change is positive but also difficult.
In the cameo series Gundle depicts members of the Maasai community within an oval shape to reference historical miniature paintings. Traditional cameos often depicted royalty, and could be presented within a locket. The oval shaped portrait makes each work feel small and loved, like a keepsake. Gundle intends each portrait to feel special and preserved within the cameo; akin to a loved one, worn close to the skin, kept warm, shielded and protected – the existence of the Maasai people, their culture and tradition, needs to be protected and cherished. Within each cameo portrait Gundle captures an essence of the personal, creating a psychological and intuitive engagement. The portrait of Metita (2015) set within the cameo, is a young Maasai woman whom Gundle met in the small community of Longido. Through the use of Indian ink on mylar, the artist expresses the fragile vulnerability of the young girl. At the same time she celebrates the strength and mystical beauty of the girl by overlaying the ink wash drawing with bold colour and pattern.
In Gundle’s ceramic pieces, the artist uses clay and layering of glazes to explore and celebrate the physical manifestation of adornment in juxtaposition with the hard, dry aridity of the landscape. In the cameo work Nairuko, the subject is encased within an ornate and rock-like ceramic frame. The artist encountered Nairuko one early morning whilst walking on a rock trail North-East of Kitumbeine village. The often-dusty petrous earth is the familiar landscape and home of the Masaai – the frames elevate this material grounding in which they inhabit. ‘A Slice of London’ - a series of ceramic heads installed at eye level observe the other works on display. Gundle playfully draws the viewer’s attention to the space in which the works inhabit whereby the viewer becomes immersed within the act of looking.
Placed in the windows of the gallery are a limited edition series of bronze sculptures. These intricately detailed and expressive, yet minimal pieces transcend the conceptual interior space of the gallery actively engaging with the street and passers by. Gundle sees these sculptures belonging outdoors, where the void inside each piece will be filled by the immediate landscape, thus completing them.
‘Personal Encounters’ opens on Monday 29 October and remains on view until Saturday 3 November 2018. A percentage of all sales generated from the ‘Personal Encounters’ exhibition at A&D gallery will go to the Enkiteng Lepa School in Kenya, which Gundle visited in June 2018. The school, founded by Helen Nkuraiya, provides education and a safe-haven for girls, rescuing them from FGM and protecting them from early marriage.
Image: Kimberley Gundle, Naeku Version III, 2015