MALUWA: Scroll and hung paintings

By George Nelson Preston

On Friday April 27, the solo exhibition of NYU’s Artist-in-Residence, Maluwa opens at the Kimmel Center in New York City.

Maluwa brings more than just a fresh look to the silhouette. Those with a weak sense of art history are likely to think of Kara Walker when looking at Maluwa because both artists work in silhouette. The silhouette is the contrivance of the French Minister of Finance and amateur Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67). In its original form it was a profile portrait filled in with black, thereby eliminating all features except the contour of the profile. Thus, the derogatory adjective, silhouette, suggesting an empty policy. The silhouette is a child of its originator’s recall of Italian quattrocento portraits.
These portraits in turn were derived from the —so to speak– high profile personages depicted on ancient coins.

This is why it is impossible to look at a silhouette without nostalgically recalling the content of First or Second Style Renaissance portraits in profile. You would ask, what happened to the beautiful faces of Ghirlandaio’s Giovanna Tornabuoni, those profile portraits by Pollaiuolo and Botticelli and what about Mantegna’s magnificent talking profiles of the Duke of Montefeltro and his wife?

So anyone working in silhouette had better come up with something of formal (or contra-formal) integrity. You can use this dilemma as a point of departure for the works of both Maluwa and Walker. Beyond that, the two are as different as night and day. Maluwa’s contour is rendered in studied neglect in contrast to Walker’s emulation of the precision of Renaissance contour in scissor cut images. Then, there is the place of the text which in Walker is indispensable to the image, didactic and intellectualized.

Maluwa’s silhouettes in contrast speak to an ancestral presence, the spirit or ethos of a culture and less to how that culture and its people has been brutalized. Here, there is cosmic memory, ancestral recall, not a history lesson in picture-text juxtaposition.

The images may sometimes be the shadows of forgotten or praised ancestors whose stillness recalls the Egyptian law of frontality but break away from it in body torsion contained in the flatness of the silhouette. References to the stars and stripes place some of these works in a very contemporary political context but the feeling that comes across is not of the present but of those aspects of our culture desired but still elusive: the American dream as something dreamed a long time ago. Maluwa uses some devices that could attain a greater degree of clarity or intent. We often see symbols that remind us of: greater than, less than, absolute value, is contained in, contains, member of, logical sum, divided by, plus, minus —and so forth. These along with the Egyptian sensibility seem to evoke hieroglyphs. The the symbols are rendered so casually that one cannot tell if they are meant to be taken literally or are just a sketchy compliment to the silhouettes.

Learn more about the artist at maluwa.org

2 Responses to “MALUWA: Scroll and hung paintings”


  1. 1 Debra James Apr 3rd, 2007 at 9:34 am

    Maluwa is an extraordinary artist. I really look forward to seeing the exhibition, and Mr. Preston’s review is very helpful in placing Maluwa’s work in the context of art history.

  2. 2 Kenwood Apr 4th, 2007 at 5:06 am

    Maluwa’s art proves to be substantial in significance and depth. A wonderful reflection on the artist.

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