In the realm of contemporary figurative art, there are few artists whose work can seamlessly bridge the gap between imagination and reality, evoking a multitude of emotions and narratives within a single canvas. Beyond the surface beauty of his paintings lies a profound depth that delves into the heart of modern African society. Kabeya’s art serves as a powerful mirror, reflecting the myriad ways in which globalization has impacted the cultural, economic, political, and social fabric of the continent. Each stroke of his brush is a testament to his commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless, a journey through time that unveils the untold stories and experiences of those often overlooked.
Personal and Professional Background:
Can you introduce yourself to our readers? What is your name and where are you from?
I am Joart Kabeya, a proficient and captivating artist with a multitude of talents in the realm of contemporary figurative painting. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and honed my craft at the Kiwele Fine Arts Institute in Lubumbashi city, where I earned a prestigious diploma in the field of painting.
What artistic medium, techniques, and materials do you primarily work with?
My distinct abilities lie in my talent, passion, and profound comprehension of the human life experience, expressed through the use of figurative language. I have introduced a groundbreaking approach to contemporary art since 2015 by utilizing burnt sugar to craft remarkable paintings on both canvas and linen paper.
How long have you been honing your artistic skills and creating art?
To expand my horizons, I made the choice to depart from my home country in 2019 and journeyed to the United States, specifically Washington DC, to pursue studies in art at Southern Utah University. However, circumstances shifted due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading me back to Africa, specifically Lusaka, Zambia. It was here that I embarked on my solo art career in 2021.
What inspires your artwork?
In my artistic journey, I’ve drawn inspiration from various sources. My approach has been shaped by Ernest Barnes, the Black American Figurative Painter Artist, whose figures and characters have left a mark on my work. Additionally, Picasso’s free-spirited creative process has deeply influenced my approach. Moreover, I’ve had the privilege of refining my skills under the guidance of esteemed visual artists from Congo DR. Notable among them are Master Seraphine Mbeya Nawej, Master Patty Maski, Master Tshilumba Ngandu Fabrice, Master Benjamin Tshilumba, and Master Kiat. I’ve also benefited from the insights gained at Master Tshite’s workshop, which have contributed to my understanding of contemporary art.
What are your goals as an artist?
Through my creations, I construct a link connecting imagination and reality. This body of work portrays dynamic portrayals of black characters engaged in dialogues that stir a spectrum of feelings and sentiments through narrated stories. These narratives shed light on contemplative themes that address the influence of globalization on modern African society across cultural, economic, political, and social spectrums. This endeavor lends a voice to those unheard, echoing through a voyage across time, preserving the aperture of free expression open for universal interpretation.
How do you come up with ideas for your art?
Furthermore, all initiates from an act of observation, contemplation, reading, life’s circumstances, and the current events unfolding both within his society and globally. As I engage in my creative process within my studio, I consistently envision that there exists an individual, somewhere across the globe, navigating a period of vulnerability. In this context, I perceive the potential for one of my creations to serve as a wellspring of hope and inspiration for them.
What is your creative process like?
In a serendipitous twist of fate, a seemingly chaotic mishap orchestrated by my spirited young brother led to a profound revelation. On that particular day, my art papers were strewn with the accidental spillage of burnt sugar, an act of mischief carried out by my brother in my studio. Initial frustration gave way to astonishment as I noticed the captivating transformation the burnt sugar had wrought – a mesmerizing brown coffee hue imbued upon my sketches. It was as if the universe was whispering to me, urging me to embrace this unexpected turn of events. Thus, the seeds of a groundbreaking technique were sown, one that I christened as “The Coffee Sukarism.” This incident crystallized the notion that art knows no confines, that what may appear as loss can be reborn as beauty through the alchemy of creative thought. A pivotal shift occurred within me, a shift that encouraged me to consider the resonance of my work in the lives of others. I envisioned individuals across the globe, grappling with vulnerability, finding solace and strength within the narratives my art could weave.
The philosophy of Coffee-Sukarism emerged as a beacon, a visionary technique that weaves together creativity and the unbridled spirit. This innovative visual language harnessed the organic essence of burnt sugar as its foundation, an homage to the Swahili term “SUKARI” for sugar, intertwined with the evocative essence of “COFFEE,” symbolizing the rich hue born from the sugar’s combustion. The hue itself holds dual significance, embodying resilience, trust, and fortitude in its warm undertones, while simultaneously embracing vulnerability, turmoil, and injustice within its darker shades. This singular technique has transcended mere artistic expression to encapsulate a profound philosophy, an empowering narrative, and a transformative approach, all evoked through the fusion of art and life’s unexpected twists.
How do you stay inspired?
Sugar, an ever-present element entwined with manifold connotations universally linked to sweetness, love, and vitality. Acting as a catalyst for taste, it ignited the inspiration to employ it as a philosophical concept within my artistic methodology. With this choice, my intention is to imbue my creations with an essence of emotion, serenity, drive, introspection, exploration, and an enkindling of awareness. As viewers engage with my artworks and absorb the message I aspire to communicate, they partake in a sensory experience akin to savoring a delectable flavor.
Have you exhibited your art in any galleries or museums?
My artistic journey has traversed both local and international landscapes, leaving imprints in prominent exhibitions and events. Notably, I was part of the inaugural group exhibition honoring the Laurent Moonens Prize at Kiwele Fine Arts Institute in Lubumbashi, D.R Congo (2015). Further recognition followed with the Djino Play the Game Art Tournament’s graffiti category award, organized by Simba beer brewery (2015). In the spirit of giving, my art graced a mini group charity auction organized by Lion’s Club in support of orphans in Lubumbashi (2018).
In 2021, a significant milestone emerged as I held my inaugural solo exhibition, themed “Behind the Mask,” at Art Twice Gallery in Lusaka, Zambia. The following year, my reach extended globally with participation in the International Association of Visual, Performing, and Other Arts (IAVPOA) Museum’s online biennial group exhibition centered on “Existential Truths” (2022). This was complemented by a physical group exhibition at Chena Gallery in Lusaka.
The trajectory continued with multiple engagements in 2022, including another participation at IAVPOA Museum exploring “Negative Force,” an online art exhibition themed “Queering the Pandemic” at Artout Festival in Florida, USA, and a physical group exhibition titled “Impress Me” at Alexis Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria.
In 2023, my work commemorated Black History Month with an international group exhibition “Ode to Yesteryear” at TAAG Gallery in Manhattan, New York City. The year also witnessed my inclusion in the 1st International Online Art Auction House, represented by Constance & Son Gallery from Lagos, Nigeria. Additionally, a group art exhibition themed “Absolute Power” took place at Constance and Son Gallery in Lagos, further solidifying my presence in the global art sphere.
What are your thoughts on the art scene in Africa?
Unbounded Africa. The foundation of African art lies in tradition, yet the moment has come to liberate ourselves from Western endorsement and narrate our own tale. We embody the culmination of our history and the current era, holding the promise of a forthcoming generation and a steadfast, progressing Africa. Our task is to kindle inspiration within and draw inspiration, forging our distinct identity through unity and love’s stride.
What are your hobbies?
In addition to my dedication to visual art, music occupies a significant place as my secondary passion, wherein I excel as a keyboard instrumentalist. Beyond that, my heart finds joy in sports, particularly football, while my penchant for extensive travel unveils the myriad cultures that grace our world, forming cherished hobbies.
What are your thoughts on the importance of art in society?
To me, Art serves as a profound tool for comprehending our essence as humans, molding the dynamics of our interactions by externalizing our inner musings, emotions, and encounters. This creative outlet, rich in inventiveness, possesses the power to inspire introspection or wield a sway over societal dynamics.
Throughout my artistic journey, my foremost mission revolves around imparting messages of love, serenity, and resilience, emphasizing the value inherent in any pursuit rooted in passion, as there will invariably be an admirer of our endeavors. Additionally, my aspiration is to spotlight the resplendence and authenticity of African art, while also showcasing its adaptability to diverse settings within the realm of artistic forms, particularly painting. Ultimately, my aim is to underscore the caliber and ingenuity embedded within my creations, thereby attesting to their merit on a global scale.