Some changes in life are due to wants and others are due to needs. Joana Taya’s early life was defined by the latter, moving from the south of her native Angola to the capital, Luanda, after the war there intensified, eventually forcing her to Portugal. From there she kept moving north, setting out to grow as a person and take the opportunities presented. On this lifelong journey, she found one thing - the more her body moved north, the further south her heart sought.
Identity is both innate and created, genetic and a social construct. We are able to create who we are, but only to an extent. Far more powerful is the everyday transactions of life that we navigate unconsciously, becoming who we are as a part of life, rather than choosing who it is we want to be. Taya’s conception of Africa, later on in her life, was as much an idea as a reality, a memory so suffused with war, movement, change, that it became an object of fractured longing. Home was symbolic of another life that she only partly knew.
Living in various subsequent environments, from the bustling London to the cold of Norway, greatly contrasted to the Africa she remembered. These places were never really able to penetrate the African identity with their characteristics. More particularly the characteristics that contrasted with home only emboldened and sharpened her own. In the contrast of north-south, were her memories best able to saturate.
This nostalgic pursuit became about scents, symbols, shapes and colours. It was Taya’s own personal journey to define what Africa really meant to a member of its diaspora. Having attained a degree in graphic design, the way Africa and Angola were approached as subjects became far more disciplined, interacting with the feelings as much as the facts. A progression took place over time. From simple longing into a developed artistic language that actively promoted Angola and beyond.
Taya’s own history began weaving into the works, a sort of semi-autobiographical exploration of self. Her interests in the way “each individual perceives the world differently and how our thoughts and memories are not necessarily representative of reality,” shines through as an omnipresent surrealistic vision. Recognisable shapes become something else in a melange of earthy tones that contrast with vivid psychedelic colours - a place Taya envisions as her “cosmic surreal world.”
Absurdity features as a narrative tool, less about the ‘weirdness’ associated with the term, as a philosophical space where the Angolan artist can most actively explore human behaviour. In simple terms, if we take a minute to look around, very little of our existence seems anything less than absurd. These oddities in life come together in Taya’s art, collected in a manner with the symmetry and shape of native African and Angolan language.
What it all comes down to for Taya is the people. Herself, her family, her ancestors, new friends met along the way and the ones that have been there forever. Her art shines its light on those tiny spaces in-between interactions. The canvases are punctuation marks at the end of a statement someone makes that shouldn’t make sense, but with all things in the world aligned as they are - its sense seems obvious. Absurd, really, isn’t it? How all things come to be? Well, yes, but it's only clear if we have someone to guide us.
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