Moreover, a deft use of native symbols and scripts in his canvases is highly reminiscent of the language of musical notation, especially that of jazz patterns, rhythms and improvisations. This results in lending to his work the sheer vibrancy, unrelenting energy and pure joie de vivre of jazz music — be it Parker, Davis or Coltrane. Jazz in itself being a fusion of Western and African music, this further reinforces the notion of cultural and racial métissage at play here.
A product of Africa but having been a resident in the United States for many years, Wosene creates paintings that are a fluid, aesthetically pleasing fusion of cultures and traditions, blending local and universal with great skill and to great effect.
Ultimately, “WordPlay” challenges conceptions of what African art is and what African art can and should be. Wosene is arguably as influenced by Western modernism as by his own Amharic culture and effortlessly oscillates between the two. His artistic practice is evidently enriched, not hindered, by having mastered the dichotomy of his own African upbringing, education and subsequent relocation to the West. Foremost a visual — but also a linguistic and cerebral — treat, this exhibition is very stimulating for all the senses.
With new exhibitions set to showcase some neglected regions of the Diaspora already in the pipeline for next year, I think we can safely be both excited by and confidently optimistic about the contribution that the Gallery of African Art intends to make to the London art scene. It is high time that art of African provenance is afforded such respect as it is given here. This elegant space intends to bestow upon artists of exceptionally high caliber and proven track records a platform to exhibit their work on a prestigious international stage — a boon for the continent and for those who passionately care about the contribution of African art and artists to the global conversation.
To quote Wosene himself, in lines from 1993 that eloquently articulate his ethos but also, I imagine, neatly encapsulate the Gallery of African Art’s own convictions: “I believe that art, like language, is communication. It is a primary form of human expression. Life without language or life without art would be no life.”
In no uncertain terms, gallery director Cooper should be applauded for the successful execution and sophisticated fulfilment of her vision — one that promises to showcase and celebrate the formidable but hitherto underrepresented artistic prowess and potential of a continent and its people.
The Gallery of African Art is at 9 Cork St., Mayfair, London W1S 3LL. Telephone: +44 (0)207 287 7400. For more information, go to gafraart.com. Wosene Worke Kosrof’s “WordPlay” runs until Aug. 23.
Lindsay Johns is a London-based writer and broadcaster. He currently blogs on current affairs and culture for the Daily Mail online.