Thoughts on Korabra

Artist Chidera Ugada reflects on BAM’s Gavin Jantjes study day, Coventry University, 5 November 2015

After a lecture I attended by the visiting researcher, Professor Paul Goodwin, with the MA painting group at Coventry University, I got to know about the Black Artists and Modernism project and the lecture that was to take place at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum on the same day back in November. Situated at the front of the audience were the members of the Black Artists and Modernism project as the works of Gavin Jantjes were introduced in a lucid manner, with additional elaboration on the project.

The Korabra series by Gavin Jantjes is a series of paintings made in 1986 at the West Indian Association Club in Coventry. This series focuses on the events of transatlantic slave trade, making use of symbolic features that exemplifies the circumstances regarding the time. Coming to understand the meaning of the title and the allusion it places on suffering and death, intrigued me to attend the seminar as I sought to see how such topics can be explored in the field of painting. Taking a closer look at the two paintings on display, Untitled (The first in the Korabra series) and Untitled (second in the Korabra Series), it was interesting to see a raw use of impasto applied on large canvas not appearing haphazardly but rather well balanced. These gigantic canvas panels felt captivating as I scanned my eye across the surface trying to actually decipher the images presented. In the seminar, various interpretations from the audience erupted as to give their own opinions on their understanding of the image presented, reflecting the engaging power of the work.

History plays a major part in my research and practice as I continuously investigate the basis of past events, furthermore highlighting its effects on the modern. It impressed me to see elements borrowed from history and culture, which ranged from antiquity down to urban modernity, incorporated shrewdly to create a cohesive narrative in this series. Another case study of mine is focused on general issues concerning Africa, which is my heritage. I seek to understand the roles Africans are playing internationally in the creative spectrum and how we are contributing in terms of innovation.

Observing the Korabra series conveyed a sense of originality, which resonates with my approach to creating.  It gives me the notion that the author of this work has a profound awareness of his heritage as it concerns matters that are significant to its identity. The courage to confront an issue such as the Transatlantic slave trade, which is gradually swept under the carpet today, I find inspiring and motivating. Considering its relationship with the Black Artists and Modernism project, its refreshing to see such optimism in bringing the Korabra to the public eye again, sparking discussion on the effects of its message on current affairs.


As part of the Black Artists & Modernism project, there are unfolding discussions amongst the research team and with scholars, artists, curators and other engaged publics.


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