“Looking Behind to Look Ahead”: Exhibition Review

A Guest Review of the ‘New Shapes’ exhibition and project

by Niccolò Lucarelli

When art meets nature, something powerful happens. New artistic perspectives can illuminate, in a way that recalls the act of creation, and that’s what people need to face the darkness we are walking through in our contemporary age. It’s clear that people are disoriented, in search of a meaning, in search of something that can cure their souls. Coming back to nature means re-discovering beauty and harmony, and the New Shapes project provides an occasion to look around and inside oneself, in order to find a new orientation – where the ‘new’ may perhaps turn out to be ancient.

Africa was the first cradle of mankind, and it’s right that the impulse for this new (or old) humanity comes from here, from this dynamic and engaged contemporary art scene, where artists feel part of a community and have a strong idea of respect; it’s something between people, yes, but it can also exist between humans and nature. This deep engagement is demonstrated by the way the young artists approached Waluguru people in Uluguru mountain region, how they listened to them, how they watched and felt with them and their traditions, in particular the way Waluguru are deeply linked to nature. 

This culture and these feelings have been “translated” into images, in order to illustrate the many things contemporary society can learn from the past. Solidarity is the main concept that emerges from this research, and Temela Hassan’s Maisha Kabla Ya Maisha (Life before Life), reminds us of the original purity of creation. The hand in the artwork – that can be seen as God’s Hand – is also the one people can use on Earth to build something good, to help other people, to prevent violence and suffering, and to protect nature. This hand is made of white shells, which links it to some of the smallest and most fragile living beings. At first glance, it reminds us of the topic of environmental protection, but is also a way to remind us how fragile mankind is without nature.

Nature can also signify peace, tolerance, harmony, and relationships with people, in opposition to war and conflict. In his painting My Hand, My Destruction (perhaps inspired by Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, in particular The Creation of Adam), Gano digs deep into consciousness and shows how life and death can be on the same side of the mirror, but just one seed of culture can be enough to stop violence. The hand on the left side dialogues with the one in Hassan’s piece, and with many others that appear in the show. Solidarity and cooperation are two emergent themes of the project, and in Gano’s work, we see the tools to develop them. 

The aesthetic languages in the exhibition remind me of ancient roots, ancient materials and spiritual practices, and each of these works is something like a secular prayer, a way to pay homage to a landscape, to a tradition, to the ancestors, in an effort to protect this heritage and to use it for building a better world.

Ultimately this show is a great romance, of hard working but also deep passion, love for mankind and the will to preserve nature and culture. Engagement is the key word, and the works in the show embrace the idea of a network between people, which exists in order to maintain identity and community. When art is the result of the combination of thoughts and instincts, it acquires a particular strength. New Shapes is a project and exhibition that has people in its centre, even before the art itself. A discourse of awareness and empathy, it asserts that this is the moment to change our mentality.


To visit the online gallery for ‘New Shapes’, please visit: https://www.nafasiartspace.org/new-shapes/


Author Biography

Niccolò Lucarelli has a degree in International Studies, is an art critic for various magazines, including Artribune and ArtsLife, and is a military historian for the Italian Army General Staff. He has published several books on World War II. He also works as an independent curator in Italy and abroad, and has signed projects for Villa Torlonia, Palazzo Farnese, Museo Canonica in Rome, Museo Archeologico in Salerno, and Pragovka Art District in Prague.