12 August – 10 September 2022

Set at an energetic pace, the rhythmic pulse of bold portraits transforms the Ten Commandments (“Amri Kumi” in Swahili) into present day stories of African culture in Amri Kumi, an exhibition of new textile works by Pierre Mukeba. 

Within an anachronistic storyboard, Mukeba’s characters are brought to life by the artist’s acute technical dexterity, allowing intense emotional states to capture sinful acts. Dazzling vignettes of personal experiences, articles read, images absorbed, contemporary myths told by family members and current events are interpreted into modern religious fables within sculptural windows of layered materials. 

As fantasy and reality vacillate alongside each other, the rhizomatic weaving of past and present is reflected back onto itself by the articulation of a physical frame. Stitches are reversed and reflected in these double-sided works, the density of composition echoing the complexity of storyline. Reflecting this inherent duality is Mukeba’s technique. Both rough and perfected, raw and finished, the restraint required to refrain from perfection intensifies the visual impact. The push and pull of these two visual states allow the subjects to jostle and oscillate, moving both forwards and backward, simmering in the unprimed canvas all the while reaching boiling point in a vivid, high-octane dance of colour. The joyful feast of vibrant hues and witty accents, such as bright blue sunglasses on a man masturbating in Honour with love, 2022, provides reprieve from the heavy storylines beneath the surface. 

Mukeba’s earlier, expressive out-pouring of charcoal on paper has enabled the progression to a freer hand, allowing the artist to confidently transition into this thrilling explosion of colour and texture, coalesced with a refined drawing control where stitches echo brushstrokes and the canvas echoes sculptural forms. Strung from the ceiling within a dark green gallery-theatre, figures leer and parade in a forest of sin - provocative and confronting stories that dredge the dichotomies of human nature up from the depths. Suspended at eye level, we wind our way through a carnival of characters: devils and villains, prostitutes and iPhone addicts. Twisting and turning, we become quickly immersed in what feels like the heat of Dante’s Inferno. Weaving oneself into the story line step by step, stitch by stitch the action of the viewer – performative, deliberate – inserts a new character into the narrative. Swimming in this sea of delinquents, faced with Jung’s shadow, we grapple with our own position on religion and sin. Are we judge or executioner?

To break a Commandment is a sin, but what if one was broken out of necessity, in order to survive? Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery: a single mother is forced to perform sexual acts as the only way to put food on the table in Surpass biological entanglement/entitlements, catering vowful commitments Mission for mistress missionaries remaining (TOP), 2022; Thou Shalt not Steal: a Nigerian thief who stole batteries to sell on the black market in order to exist is caught, paraded through the streets and beaten to death in Watenda Mabaya Waliiba (WEZI)/A gallop on Napoleon’s Nag across the bed of flowery thieves Barbaric whips to kill against God’s will, 2022. 

In these momentary snapshots, Mukeba incites a Reckoning; allowing for the circulatory nature of these works, where the stories weave and unfold across the exhibition space and within the two-part works themselves, to ultimately create a space for redemption. Yet, can two wrongs make a right? Perhaps we are confronted with the reality of pain and hardship that others face, perhaps we are presented with a mirror to ourselves. Whichever way we read Mukeba’s work, a multiplicity of interpretations creates an open dialogue, a place to seek truths and to discover the heart of human nature.

Sitting in a middle ground between good and evil, dark and light or heaven and hell, Mukeba offers a position on humanity, allowing us to see a possibility that perhaps, no matter our cultural or religious background, love and forgiveness can prevail. Within dangling bodies, writhing in acts of sin, a space of healing is offered. How shall we be judged?

–Victoria Scott, 2022

How far are you willing to go to understand our side.

Do not bring your prejudice before me, I do not seek idolism, nor shall my name be 

placed above thee, remember this day, a new sabbath; may my mother feel the honour.

Acknowledge the murdered and the autonomy of adultery. Let theft not be in your will, for we shall not be bearers of falsehood.

Amri Kumi dives into the meanings of both liberation and conflict that exist despite the constant struggle to be both individual and reformed; every life form, religion and being trembles, aghast at the callings of death, or perhaps worst a deviation from socially depicted norms.

What is a fundamental truth in the right way to live – be it a culture, a conversion or a sinful act we deem right? In a world of lavish enjoyment amplified by the lustful natures of human/mankind can one rightfully embody the right to call them/ourselves diligent followers of the commandments? If it’s passage and an earning to arrive at the promised lands, does one not need to look into the depths and accept the possibility that they’ve been caught up in a wrongful swell or stood witness to wrongful deeds.

“...this collection - I have portrayed the Amri Kumi (Ten Commandments) in a more modern, contemporary way & how they play out practically in modern African culture. The consequences of acting against these commandments are still very real and can be very brutal regardless of the context around the sin.”

Created on multi-tier, un-primed calico cotton textile, we witness the poesy engraved onto this creation of dual fabric infused tablets within Mahali pa kuponya mawazo yako/ a place to come heal in your thoughts. To bear Amri Kumi is to accept oneself of not being a faithful follower – in attempts we can decipher and seek the beauty in healing. Walk through the divide of the brutality and unrest and embrace the prevailing stories weaved into the complexities within the ten commandments. 

–Emmanuel Lwanga Kei, 2022

Emmanuel Lwanga Kei is a spoken word poet and performer born in Uganda and based in Adelaide since 2001. 

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