Luther Konadu

The gallery is well lit. The space is divided by exposed steel framing that fragments and obfuscates sightlines. The skeletal wall and intermittent plywood cladding are just a few of the many allusions to provisionality in the show. Images of young people (and images of images of young people) are distributed across many surfaces as framed photographs or loose prints that are rolled, stacked or pinned. A series of tables holds research material, books, magazines, fragments of text and prints that cascade from one surface to another. Some of the tables have been constructed so that large framed images can be slotted in and leaned against the table’s frame.

I once heard a BBC television presenter say that one of the key components in the development of representation in European art was the emergence of figures that bore evidence of an interior life. Ever since I heard this assertion, I have been confused and disquieted by its implications. What is the result of this evidence? What does someone’s image tell you about them and who constructs that system of signification? How are images of individuals slotted into these data sets? Why would you look for evidence in an image? These questions, and many others, were brought to mind by Luther Konadu’s exhibition “No Further” at the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

Luther Konadu, installation, “No Further,” 2023–2024, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina. Photo: Carey Shaw. Courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina.

For all of the messiness the work alludes to, it appears to be contained within the world of the images. The frames are hung straight and the materials on the tables meet at right angles, evenly spaced or overlapping. The monochrome panels that accompany many of the large images are meticulously constructed and their painted surfaces are slick and crisp like the pristine prints that are piled on the tables. All of the curls, wrinkles, tears and tape that constitute many of the works are rephotographed to maintain the flatness of the physical objects in the space.

Konadu’s project “Figure as Index,” 2017–ongoing, contemplates the figure in photography and its myriad connections to the history of ethnography, colonialism and portraiture. Some pieces jut out from the wall, hanging in the air with acrobatic grace. I have thought about these works for a long time, pondering their gesture since first seeing them in a group exhibition at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon. I think a lot about the interiority of photographs, that imagined, illusive and irrational space the BBC presenter gestured to. In the conventional display of framed photographs, what makes up the “beneath the surface” space of an image is the gallery wall, the architecture of the institution. The aerial arch of these plywood panels, like a wardrobe door left ajar in a postmodern magic show, offers material reality where you might look for evidence of an internal world.

There is a curious charm to the way the work conducts its disintegration of photographic mystery. It reminds me of the video of Bjork explaining her television, particularly when she describes the fracturing of an image and the task of reassembling it in your mind. It’s a fragmentation I think about a lot when printing photographs, seeing the image materialize in strips as the print head glides across the surface of a piece of paper, depositing a precise mist of ink in several layers. To me, the work in “No Further” also engages Bjork’s caution about the hypnotic glut of images that overloads a person’s capacity to engage in the moral and ethical implications of pictures.

Luther Konadu. No Further, 2023, archival inkjet prints, plywood, metal and ephemera, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina.

During a Q&A at the opening, Konadu spoke about how he opened his photo practice as a way of meeting other members of the African diaspora in Winnipeg. Starting with co-workers and including other members of the art community, the images in “No Further” appear to be a communal negotiation of image making that is inextricably linked to the process of community making. In this light, I see how this work may connect to his many other activities, which seem to have become a crucible for connectivity in the city. As the founding editor of Public Parking (an online publication for critical writing) and the director of Centre for Cultural and Artistic Practices (FKA Blinkers), he works to foster connections and build opportunities that undermine many of the fictions used to make art spaces exclusive or inaccessible.

Near the back of the exhibition there is an image that runs across two framed prints. It is a photo of an explosively fragmented collage of images and text punctuated by colour fields and masking tape. A large portion is peeled away and an image of a younger Konadu can be seen holding a shutter release. To the left, there is another print of the same image, except in this one a small fragment of text on the wall behind him can be seen. It reads “I AM WORKING ON IT.” This one image gestures to the large field of ambitions in Konadu’s practice, where questions of photography’s (in)ability to represent, or create meaning or community, are worked through many levels and across many years. ❚

“Luther Konadu: No Futher” was exhibited at MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, from September 23, 2023, to January 14, 2024.

Nic Wilson (he/they) is an artist and a writer based on Treaty 4 land where they graduated from the MFA program at the University of Regina.

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