March 7, 2022

Gideon Appah
Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes

Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University

Gideon Appah, Cecilia (Triptych), 2020–21. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 47 x 117 in. Installation view, Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, Markel Center. Photo: Adam Reich.

Gideon Appah, Two Men Having a Smoke, 2020–21. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 16 1/2 x 11 5/8 in. Installation view, Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, Markel Center. Photo: Adam Reich.

Gideon Appah, Remember Our Stars, 2020. Acrylic, oil and canvas, 78 x 78 in. Installation view, Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, Markel Center. Photo: Adam Reich.

Gideon Appah’s paintings merge his interest in Ghanaian popular culture with his own imagination, dreams, and fantasies.

Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes is a newly commissioned exhibition by Gideon Appah. Newspaper clippings, entertainment posters, and films spanning the 1950s through the 1980s became source material for Appah’s exploration of the rise and fall of Ghanian cinema and leisure culture. The cycle of cultural memory, from heyday to bygone, is depicted in a series of portraits of illustrious and forgotten figures.

The paintings include striking scenes from public and private life. In Hyped Teen and Bliss, dapper men are depicted on their way to the club, while solitary figures can be seen in the theater painting series. Appah presents people at various stages of personhood, from their most arresting public selves to their most intimate private moments. From the quiet, domestic scenes of A Woman Drowned in Water and Man in Bed to the vibrant landscapes and nude people in Nude Boy, Appah even blurs the lines between the living and the dead.

Throughout Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes, Appah presents scenes suggesting a cycle of life: the brand new, the old, and the dying. Electric hues of blue, purple, and yellow give off the sensation of life at its fullest. While thick, muddier compositions of gold, brown, and black portray eerie scenes, as depicted in Skull. Many figures are painted smoking, both as an homage to nightlife culture and a sign of a bad omen. Appah’s work speaks to a sense of loss – from the death of cinema to the death of democracy itself.

One central work in the exhibition, ROXY 2, recalls Ghana’s famous Roxy Cinema, in Accra, the capital city. By placing figures in a recognizable architectural space, this work and others serve as an homage to Ghana’s old cinema houses, which were once at the center of social life, particularly during the country’s struggle for independence from colonial rule in the 1950s and ’60s. Popular Ghanian films like The Boy Kumasenu (1952), I Told You So (1970), and Kukurantumi: Road to Accra (1983) serve as source material for environments and characters within these paintings. For Appah, these films allow him to grasp how cultural appetite evolves and creates memories that define people and cultures.

Forgotten, Nudes, Landscapes is Appah’s first institutional solo exhibition, curated by the ICA’s Curator Amber Esseiva. This exhibition was produced with the support of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.

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