Performances of Memory

Onyis Martin, who won a merit award at the 2016 L’Atelier, will be showing his latest solo show Performances of Memory at the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg from 7 August to 31 August 2018. He shared the rationale behind his latest works with Creative Feel.

Untitled 3, Onyis Martin, 2018

Within a week of arriving in South Africa for my residency at The Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, I learnt of the death of my grandmother. I chose to deal with this loss alone, rather than share it with those around me, fearing that the knowledge of this loss would intrude on the initial encounter with them, and in doing so, alter the course of our interactions and relationships going forward.
     This experience, however, led me to consider loss and understand it. It occurred to me that one can never know the loss that another experiences; that whatever understanding there may be, relies on one’s own previous experience of loss projected onto the second person. This shared understanding of loss, built on individual experience, opened up, for me, an inquiry into the functioning of individual and collective memory: the alternating cycles of knowing and forgetting; the multiple remembrances of events; and the mechanisms of accessing and obscuring memories.

The making of the work for my exhibition, Performances of Memory, borrows from intaglio and sgraffito printmaking techniques. Alternating layers of solid colours applied to the canvas in quick succession are representative of different stages of knowing and forgetting

Untitled 4, Onyis Martin, 2018

     The making of the work for my exhibition, Performances of Memory, borrows from intaglio and sgraffito printmaking techniques. Alternating layers of solid colours applied to the canvas in quick succession are representative of different stages of knowing and forgetting. Later, after application, I scratch them to varying degrees, revealing underlying layers and, in some instances, applying ink to the revealed areas. The scratching and inking allude to modes of uncovering and retrieving memories, as well as the processes with which memories are written over.
     The whole process is solitary, cathartic, and undertaken entirely in private and what remains is canvases transformed into veils, a record of a private ritual made public after the fact. Grief, memory, loss, memory loss, all of these are folded into these canvases which stand as traces, memories in and of themselves.
     Born in Kisumu, Kenya in 1987, Onyis Martin is a painter and mixed media artist living and working in Nairobi, Kenya.