This exhibition was devised during Zora Mann’s residency at the Centre d’Art, Nice, between November 2019 and February 2020.
Zora Mann’s painting is the stuff of density: many colours, shapes that are repetitive or, conversely, divergent, intertwined or superposed in compositions that are often saturated with lines or curves. If her works do not refer to geometric or lyric abstraction, they rather evoke psychedelic experimentation in the way they make different worlds and perceptions cohabit. She says: I paint from the inside out.
This manner of thought and production is also very close to Art Brut (Outsider Art), precisely for its ‘interiority’ and intertwined motifs. What makes her work even more singular is its tribal dimension. Her parents are from East Africa, where she has spent a great deal of time and whose culture has profoundly affected her. Waganga (title of the exhibition) means ‘healers of souls’ in Swahili (a lingua franca derived from Bantu languages). She discovered the term in a film made two decades ago by her father in Kenya about a mganga (singular of waganga) named George.
The exhibition brings together several paintings she made there. They are of different formats (one is very large: 3×9 metres) and form a mural assemblage. They are devised as travel diaries, since many were made during her journeys. They can also be perceived as reconstructed dreams. The ‘spatial synchronicities’ (a term borrowed from the psychoanalyst Carl Jung), specific to the construction of dreams, are realistic: the smaller the formats, the more striking their ‘density’.
But Zora Mann’s painting is also present in the sculptures she calls Boucliers (Shields). These objects, intended by their very nature for protection or combat, here shed their warlike purpose to become ‘physical boundaries’, serving as surfaces for more or less curved, elongated or compact motifs. The more massive Murs (Walls), made of wood, papier-mâché, resin and paint, can be seen through, which in no way precludes viewing them as distorted bodies erected in the middle of the exhibition’s main room. The bead curtains she makes with the remains of thongs collected on the banks of Kenya’s waterways are, on the contrary, more fluid objects, intended to be seen through, also acting as filters between several works.
All photos by François Fernandez