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Union Jacking. Voice of the Voice£ess, Yonamine at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art gallery

Union Jacking. Voice of the Voice£ess, by Yonamine, at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, is a real exhibition; it doesn’t simply show the artist’s recent production. It takes risks and creates an atmosphere of a great installation. It is a characteristic of the individual exhibitions of the artist born in Angola, where each one suggests a narrative based on the aggregation of various works, materialized in multiple techniques and supports, with their own stories and meanings. As the years go by, this is one of the main premises of his work: to fictionize an alternative history, where references and facts are mixed, proposing, from a decolonial perspective, the questioning of the structures that enable forms of oppressive power.

Yonamine does this brilliantly, with a vigorous, impactful and oddly joyful work. Probably aware that laughter can also be a weapon against the established power – something remembered by the cultural motto that serious subjects are no laughing matter. This exhibition is full of iconic images – Napoleon, the Ku Klux Klan costume or the Queen’s guards, among others – that are mingled together. With subtle alterations, drenched in irony, they refer to symbols of white supremacist ideology in African countries.

The agitation and stimuli are constant and they begin right at the entrance. Videos and animated images merge into patterns, and dialogue with the large installation on the wall, with materials such as costumes, newspaper clippings from Zimbabwe, fabrics, paintings and a circular beam of light that shows a police detention. At the same time, one hears the buzz of bees which, according to the artist, evokes the whisper of those who were and continue to be subjected to silence.

The exhibition, as the title implies, refers to Union Jack – the flag of the United Kingdom –, the ultimate symbol of the British imperialist power, responsible in Zimbabwe for the oppression and minimization of local culture. Yonamine, in an act that can be considered political, evokes the flag with reflective stripes, playing with its pictorial possibilities. The paintings, made with overlapping fabrics and “patches”, with words, logos and figures, are witty and cleansed, particularly when compared to the artist’s previous series.es

At the inauguration, Yonamine signed and distributed an edition of posters that expand his exhibition – and his message – beyond physical space, underlining the idea that Union Jacking. Voice of the Voice£ess is also a manifesto, where, without any sadness, he identifies and emphasizes the perversion of the structures of power, camouflaged and still (brutally) in force in Zimbabwe. On the other hand, it also shows how art can subvert any codes, using them without rules, creating counter-narratives beyond politics; and words.

Open until October 12, at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art gallery.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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