Born in the semi-arid Northern Cape of South Africa (during 1984), Kimathi Mafafo questions historical stereotypes around gender inequality in Africa, through a multidisciplinary approach encompassing embroidery, oil painting, and installation. To celebrate both Black female and abstracted forms, she places them within verdant backgrounds of greenery and drapery; sensory imagery that in its lushness departs from the mining town of her upbringing.
Kimathi’s father G. Rocky Mafafo, a respected watercolorist, encouraged his children when they were young to take art classes at the local William Humphreys Museum in Kimberly, South Africa. Kimathi affectionately recalls wandering around the collections of 16th and 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings there, entranced by the vitality of their colors and details. In the face of this technical bravura, and while under the watchful eye of her father, she became exacting. Her compositions burst with riotous plant life; each leaf and frond is meticulously executed. Seductive in the details, yet still curiously flat, narratives resulting appear highly staged.
Mafafo is guided by her own inspiring women to self-embrace. Her earliest works are partly autobiographical: they tell the story of a woman withdrawing from urban life, who finds strength in nature and within herself. Mafafo has continued these themes in her latest work, executed alongside Mustapha Saadu—a Ghanaian tailor—with whom she has collaborated on a series of embroideries (reclaiming an ancient art form). In her words “these embroideries tell dark stories of women who are trapped under the weight of tradition, living in a dark space and not realizing that the world is beautiful! My work shows that she only has to leave, then she will realize that there is more in life .” The series Voiceless, which the present lot represents, similarly depicts women who feel powerless in their personal relationships, due to the weight of cultural expectation.
Inspired by stories of women around her, Mafafo likens the female figures in her narratives to flowers slowly blossoming against all odds. She subtly criticizes traditional gender roles, simultaneously encouraging women to realize their individual strengths.
Acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner
Acquired from the Artnet Africa Present Auction, September 14, 2021