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Summer 2020 (Postponed, dates to be confirmed)

Pippy Houldsworth Gallery is delighted to present Between a rock and a hard place, the first European solo exhibition of Kenyan artist, Chemu Ng’ok. The exhibition, scheduled to open at the gallery in March 2020, has now been postponed to later in the year, with dates to be confirmed.

Questions of power and agency are fundamental to Ng’ok’s painting practice which explores the dynamics of human interaction, public and private. Bold swathes of colour, thin washes of paint and numerous fine lines depict bodies in a constant state of flux. Multiplying in number and shifting in scale, the human form is characterised by a restlessness that visualises the permeable line between intersections of identity.

For this body of work, Ng’ok takes the image of a handshake as a starting point to examine the division of power and its repercussions as they extend from the top downwards. Specifically she considers the gesture in the context of Kenya’s 2017 elections and the image of two presidential rivals shaking hands. Interested in the ways that individual action translates to collective experience, Ng’ok uses this public symbol of cooperation to ask questions about the performance of leadership and a leader’s relationship to their public. In particular, she considers the hopes and anxieties for the future that the handshake provokes, emotions that are heightened by the memory of violence in the wake of the 2007 election.

Using imagery drawn from social media and newspaper cuttings, the artist stages scenes with imagined protagonists and interactions. Military figures, politicians, court-judges, and protesting crowds proliferate across her canvases. Exploring war and protest as local and global events, Ng’ok considers their effects on the individual and collective psyche as experienced through the media or day to day experience. Building on her concept of ‘psychological riot’ – a form of internal protest against imposed patterns of thinking – the exhibition’s title, Between a rock and a hard place, speaks to the difficulties of change within any established system and the universal struggle to create agency as an individual or movement within the wider structure of society.

Chemu Ng’ok (b.1989) lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya. She completed her Masters degree in Fine Arts, Painting at Rhodes University, Grahamstown in 2017 and was the recipient of the Mellon Foundation's Visual and Performing Arts of Africa Masters Bursary in 2016. She recently completed the Fountainhead residency in Miami, Florida (2019). Ng’ok was selected to show five paintings at the Fourth New Museum Triennial, Songs for Sabotage, in New York (2018). Certain of these works were drawn from Self Esteem for Girls, a solo presentation first shown at FNB Joburg Art Fair (2017). Exhibitions include those at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London (2019); Blank Projects, Cape Town (2019); National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare (2017); Goodman Gallery, Cape Town (2015) and Rhodes University, Grahamstown (2014).

Ng'ok has been shortlisted for the Henrike Grohs Art Award 2020. The announcement of the winners and the ceremony has been postponed to later this year.

For further information please contact:
Katharine Higgs

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Chemu Ng'ok
Untitled, 2020
oil on canvas
140 x 140 cm, 55.1 x 55.1 in