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Sungi Choreographs at (Un)Choreographed show

Artist delves into the subject of dance as metaphor for Black women liberation and empowerment

| DOMINIC MUWANGUZI |  Artist, Sungi Mlengeya’s recent solo show (Un)choreographed is about celebration of dance in everyday life. This should not come as a surprise since the artist easily admits to love the art and will immediately stand up to dance whenever a good song is played on the radio. In the interview she had with Okayafrica, an online publication, a head of her show at African Centre, London, the shy but cheerful artist, said that dance is a way of liberation for her. Indeed, her minimalist paintings with stark white backgrounds and, black and white subjects in movement or assuming acrobatic poses, are symbolic to the act of moving forward: to be liberated in life. Sungi’s exchange of a banking profession for a full time career in art can be partly interpreted as a pursuit of that liberation through self-discovery.

Such figurative representation reverberate how dance is perceived in many traditional African societies across the continent. Traditionally, there was a form of dance performed for at least every aspect of day to day life of the community; from child birth to marriage or worship. Yet the more astonishing aspect of this creative practice is that women were always at the forefront of it.Here it becomes apparent that the woman’s role in society, not only as mother and wife, but also as a social activist was indispensable. Again, this position imbues the strength and power of women since the precolonial days; though often stifled by the patriarchal society. In the contemporary times, where such stereotype still persists, the artist subverts such norm by creating empty spaces in the artwork. As such she argues that while her dance movements often involve taking up space, within the context of her work the space left in the paintings is a metaphor to women autonomy. The woman needs space to make decisions as a basic right.

While her recent body of work may be contextualized in the African setting with its dance imagery, it can also elicit a universal resonance with its attempt to capture calm and peace with white backdrops. With so much strife going on in the world in different sectors, Sungi’s black and white paintings can offer an opportunity to figuratively heal from that trauma. Suffice to say, during the climax of the Black Lives Matter Movement 2019, after the death of George Floyd, her paintings gained international credibility for creating awareness on the marginalization of black people across the world. Nonetheless, the fact that her work is primarily inspired by women in her immediate community, it therefore celebrates the worth of the everyday woman. This type of woman is often neglected and hardly recognized by mainstream society.

Sungi has always been a choreographer with her art; stimulating diverse emotions and feelings with her paint brush. Her ability to translate her personal experiences and those of women in her immediate surrounding into a universal visual language is incredible. The images she paints on canvas can have diverse interpretations for different people across the world, and the message is palatable like the monochromatic hues and stark white backdrops that illuminate them. As such, in her work we are suddenly gripped with the power of art in our lives as a potent vehicle to reveal what lies beneath our soul. These exploratory paintings are definitely a showcase of our intricate wellbeing as human beings- the desire to more than express ourselves- regardless what gender and race.

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Sungi Mlengeya’s solo show at African Centre, London is in collaboration with Afriart gallery. The exhibition runs from 20th June-24 July 2022. Images courtesy of Afriart Website.

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