The atmosphere is humid and relaxed at Tiwani Contemporary. Or perhaps it is the first impression the series by the Kenyan photographer Mimi Cherono Ng’ok gives off. The title of the exhibition “Everyone is lonely in Kigali” evokes solitude and loneliness to a powerful degree. I expected some kind of ubiquitous depression is expected to be floating around the room, but the ambiance is not quite so melancholic. The artist inhabits the photographs and transports herself travels from one picture to another, leading the way, and feeding our curiosity with a mature eye. Discovering the artist and her art for the first time, I thought she had channelled her experience of life into the scenes and directed the camera with fully-formed feelings. My non-academic procedure of not reading the press release ahead of time allows me to be open to the subject matter and connect freely with the artworks, so , I originally thought that Ng’ok was older than she really is.
The series is reminiscent of documentary photography, and represents in the words of Ng’ok an ’emotional photography’. Some of the photographs are framed, others are pinned on the wall and delimited by a white large border. The sizes also are sporadically presented in a haphazard, disorganised fashion.
The images were shot while traveling, and although each one of them depicts simple elements such as fruits, the front of a house, or a tree, they also describe an emotion felt at a given moment to which the viewer is invited to relate to. My eyes wander from one photograph to another, enjoying the warm colours, the splendid landscapes and the unusual subject matter. Although nature is the primary theme, two men and a horse in the series, and despite the presence of other living beings, the feeling of loneliness persists.
The exhibition centres around random elements of life chosen specifically by Ng’ok. She narrates the story of individuals striding the course of life and contemplating what the world has to offer. Sometimes it’s as fascinating as a scene with tropical palm trees on which the light projects hope and dreams, at other times it’s as banal as a hotel signal, inviting a tired traveller to take a break from life’s turbulence and to discharge the excessive weight of depression, anxiety and trauma accumulated over a long time. Behind the eye of the camera lens, I can almost feel the photographer breathing and communicating her current emotions. I believe she angled, positioned, and directed the lighting of the camera in a subconscious manner, leaving her imprint on the final image. At this instant, she supersedes the subject itself and superimposes herself onto the surface of the paper, burning herself indelibly into the depth of the image.
Everyone is Lonely in Kigali: Mimi Cherono Ng’ok at Tiwani Contemporary (4 May – 17 June 2017)