Event photography: Mthunzi Ntlebi

SMITH is excited to present Nabeeha Mohamed’s first solo exhibition with the gallery titled Sunshine on my skin is my favourite colour. This follows inclusions at numerous group shows and art fairs with SMITH since 2018. This exhibition presents oil paintings, monotypes and cement sculptures.

To take a complex tapestry and reduce it to markers of what is ‘known’ is to do an injustice to the design and beauty that shapes its entirety. Taking a face at face-value is to assume it’s façade is final, and that an opinion outweighs the actuality of someone’s personhood. Nabeeha Mohamed’s first solo show at SMITH, Sunshine on my skin is my favourite colour, is an autobiographical reclamation of the self. A patient pondering on the building blocks of one’s reflection becomes a discussion of how each shape and colour has played host to a lifetime of experiences, and how these experiences then reformed the whole in order for the person to acclimate, and then most importantly – how that human being can stake their claim over it all.

In a world where divisiveness reigns supreme, it is no small task to seek to marry every part of the self into a state of sameness. The distinct markings of introspection and collation of memories and their meanings follow alongside Mohamed’s emboldened brush strokes, revealing a journey that has no fear of depth or desire.
Mohamed’s desires are in fact in her command, as she takes charge of how she is seen, as well as how her world holds colour and time. By creating symbols for her identity and arranging them just so, Mohamed directs the eye across a creation of space she’s claimed for her own, by her own hand.

Critiquing the aesthetic of painting itself, and it’s pursuit of superficial beauty, Mohamed lets her oils bleed and breathe their way across Belgian linen. She lets them harden, scratches away at them and then builds them up into textured impasto surfaces. “There are immediate associations with painting being that which is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. My style and technique seek to disrupt these preconceptions of beauty in painting,” she explains.

Offering her truest self in tandem with the ever-present, presumptuous societal gaze, Mohamed challenges the notions that are birthed from the friction here.

How does one draw the line between projection and perspective? How does one decide who they are, volleying between their inner and outer selves? Why not the mirror? Why not the moments that mean mother, and father, and lover? Why not the objects that mean home? In order to build the mosaic of who she is, Mohamed tasked herself to dutifully interrogate the elements of her life; her privilege, her upbringing, her body, her mind and heart.

Having decided that it would be disingenuous to speak about her experiences as a woman of colour without also discussing the life of luxury she was afforded, Mohamed expresses this topic of tension in her contemporary still life works that play on the genre of 17th century Dutch Vanitas paintings.

In keeping with the theme of her self-excavation, wherever Mohamed found a crack between the ideas of herself, and opened it, she made room for expression. Facing each facet of her life, she also presents her experiences with wealth. Here, the titles of her work, such as The Smell of Rot that Ripe Fruit Makes speak to the excess that shadows indulgence. “My vanitas paintings are made up of high heeled shoes, luxury watches, jewellery, juicy fruits, sunglasses, ashtrays and cigarettes, among other things. The materialist value of these objects is offset by either text written directly on the paintings or by the titles of the work,” Mohamed details.

Gathering emblems to depict these aspects of her existence progressed into making something more of these metaphors. It wasn’t enough to have these symbolic gestures live outside of context and prey to supposition, so Mohamed framed them genuinely and with style, and mind. There is a sincere simplicity in celebrating every fraction of who you are; in not denying yourself when being. There is bravery in presenting this endeavour on canvas, since this body of work takes the overall form of a self-portrait.

There lays an undoubted power within her works that creates with it a feeling of freedom beyond fantasy, a palpable something you can carry home with you, in a locket. “Maybe I stopped painting, to deal with what it all means,” are the final lines of a complementary poem, titled Parrot, written by Misha Krynauw that speaks directly to Mohamed’s undertaking of perceiving herself beyond prejudice, and taking that new knowledge and creating for herself, and you, a new world.

Sunshine on my skin is my favourite colour will run from 20 February until 20 March 2020. To request further material please contact Jana Terblanche at jana@smithstudio.co.za.