Young artist Boris Nzebo started out working as a barbershop signmaker in Cameroon. These bright, stylized paintings of hairstyles are a familiar sight across Africa but for Nzebo they signify much more than the choice between a ‘Ronaldo’ and a ‘Mini Dread’.
Painting The Hot Town, his current exhibition at the Jack Bell Gallery in London, comprises several of his large-scale acrylic on canvas works combining street scenes of Douala (Cameroon’s largest city) with studies of traditional hairstyles. His bold lines and strong colours reference advertising, graffiti and abstract art and - like J.D. Okhai Ojeikere before him - he delves into the social significance elaborate coiffure is imbued with in African society.
“I aim to raise questions around why our environment is not as well kept as our heads,” Nzebo says. “We take care of our hairstyles but do nothing to combat corruption and embezzlement of public funds. Whether groomed or dreadlocked, hairstyles make sense in a specific environment. We should be able to decipher these codes and go beyond them.”
Born in 1979 in Port-Gentil, Gabon, Nzebo left sign painting behind to do a residency at ArtBakery, Cameroon’s art institute in Bonendale, in 2007. Since then he has shown both at home and in Paris, Berlin and Dubai but this is his first London exhibit. “Boris has an exceptional ability to give life to the everyday,” says Oly Durey, Associate Director at Jack Bell Gallery, a space dedicated to discovering new African art. “Simultaneously personal and universal, his works speak a language familiar to Douala’s inhabitants and beyond.”
Boris Nzebo’s Painting The Hot Town is on show until November 9th at Jack Bell Gallery
Images: courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery