The assimilation of contemporary urban art
This fusion of representations of traditional African societies and those of the global urban world clearly expresses another cornerstone of Simões’s modus operandi: graffiti and pichação—products of the “influence the streets had on me”, reveals the artist. The assimilation of this subversive art form, produced on the outskirts of major urban centers of the West, originally by African-Americans in 1960s, offers the artist the ideal means to portray themes of daily life and the history of his territory.
With his graffiti, Simões superimposes components of distinct times and aesthetic and chromatic elements, creating a big mash-up of collages in public spaces. Portraits like that of Samuel Maharero (leader of the Herero uprising against German colonists, in what is now Namibia), elderly people, women with bundles on their heads, children, rappers or passers-by who crossed paths with the artist in their daily lives, occupy walls and murals through the juxtaposition of Simões’ graphic elements.
Simões’ images pulse with life that arises from the color composition of his graffiti. The choice of contrasts between light and dark, as well as the tuning of shadows and points of light, give an effect of depth, resulting in a kind of “portrait of reality”. Just like portraits in the European painting tradition, whose aim was to dignify and legitimize the person portrayed, Simões’ choice of African individuals relates to his desire to capture the sublime, in contrast to the social conditions in which these people are embedded – going beyond the place to which they were conditioned by the colonial legacy. “They’re everyday people, nameless people who I happen across in the streets. I look to them with reverence and respect. A person may think he’s nothing, he’s nobody, but, for me, he will always be an ultimate expression,” sums up the artist.
Authored by: Cristina A. Barros, Edgar Costa Silva, Iêda Aleluia, Luis Fernando Lisboa, Leila Patrícia de Jesus Santos Requião, Renata Martins, Uriel Bezerra.
This article is the result of the collective work fostered by the workshop entitled “Art Criticism as Writing Exercises. Analysis of the works of Thó Simões and Koffi Mensah Akagbor”, held in May and June 2020 by Renata Martins, as part of her virtual Vila Sul 2020 residence, sponsored by the Goethe-Institut Salvador-Bahia. Over the course of six weeks, participants from different cities and areas of expertise met in groups online, where they were able to engage virtually with Thó Simões in order to produce this work of collective knowledge on the Angolan artist’s creations.
Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry.