On Cassi Namoda
Cassi Namoda (b. 1988) is a self-taught interdisciplinary artist whose expressive portraits investigate the negotiations between personal and cultural identity through spirited, cinematic compositions awash with rich colors and nuanced gestures. Recent exhibitions include Tropical Depressions at Xavier Hufkens (Brussels, BE); Life has become a foreign language at Goodman Gallery (Cape Town, SA); girls girls girls curated by Simone Rocha currently on view at Lismore Castle Arts (Lismore, IR); Little is Enough For Those In Love at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery (London, UK). The artist’s work has been featured on the cover of Vogue Italia and a number of other publications including Artforum, Artnet, Frieze, i-D, and the forthcoming book African Art Now: Fifty Pioneers Defining African Art for the Twenty-First Century by Osei Bonsu.
Cassi Namoda earned her BFA in Cinematography from the American Academy of Art and that lens has permeated her compositions.The artist’s expressive portrayals pay homage to her cosmopolitan roots, growing up across six countries and immersed in nature wherever her family went. The daughter of a Mozambican mother and American father, the artist’s global sensibilities can be seen in the breadth of surreal elements and references populating the artist’s early paintings.
Ahead of her upcoming residency with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation which will take her to Senegal, Ireland, and Connecticut, we’re excited to look into her frequent recurring character, Maria, as depicted in her two print collaborations with ART FOR CHANGE, Sad Maria Reads Pessoa (2019) and Nude Maria Combs her Hair (2021).
Cassi Namoda, Nude Maria Combing Her Hair, 2021; Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Print
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A frequently recurring character in her compositions, Maria is meant to embody the woman in post-colonial Mozambique, a multifaceted, feisty, emotive femme fatale who embodies contemporary ambitions melded with old world values. Her Marias are skillfully rendered through an intimate lens with care and detail of various lived-in settings along with objects that provide further insight into the rich protagonist.
In Nude Maria Combing Her Hair (2021), Namoda’s unique pictorial language expresses the duality of identity and place. Maria sits on a deep red and blue cushion at her vanity while a suitor stands in the doorway receding into the lilac background with only the red bouquet to distinguish his presence in color. Around her, action is expressed in objects, with the artist’s gaze heightening her agency. Maria comes alive in the splashes of water speckling the floor, the open lipstick tube and bra hanging from the bar under the sink and shining, detangled curls rolling down her back. The subject is magnified in her touch across all parts of the polysemic scene.
In Sad Maria Reads Pessoa, the artist suspends her protagonist’s weeping body in the center of swirling magenta, violet and teal walls that close in on her space. The warmth of the candle fails to warm Maria’s pale face, as she clutches a bottle of wine and a small red heart fades behind her. The artist’s early modernist influences are typified in this composition both in her formal style and construction of cultural and personal identity. A clear nod to the work of Marc Chagall, Namoda builds her space out from flat washes of color deepened with the texture of her gestures, engaging with the Portuguese influences that her Maria would turn to when in heartbreak.
Fernando Pessoa, the modernist poet’s, name floats above Maria’s head – a heightened embodiment of the fractured personality affected by loss. Pessoa’s explicit inclusion is an apt choice, as the Portuguese poet spent significant time in Mozambique and is known for publishing his work under three pseudonyms, each with distinct personal histories and writing styles. An exercise in empathy and his personal philosophy, Pessoa insisted that identity is a flexible, dynamic structure, analogous to the many lives of Namoda’s Marias. In Maria’s temperaments, objects, and characters that fill her world, we see more than just the singular woman, but an alias adapting to the values and expectations of an evolving world.
Representing a new wave of contemporary African artists, Cassi Namoda’s ethereal portraiture and figurative compositions encapsulate the changing values in post-colonial Mozambique as navigating the continued impact of colonial dynamics on an interpersonal level.