Just My Imagination: Zanele Muholi e Ayogu Kingsley at HANGAR

“Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by

I say to myself you’re such a lucky guy

To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true

Out of all the fellows in the world she belongs to me

But it was just my imagination

Runnin’ away with me

It was just my imagination runnin’ away with me”[1]


This is how the song that lends its name to the exhibition, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) by the American soul band The Temptation, begins. Narrated by a man imagining a relationship with the woman he loves, this song fantasises about the hope of having a simple, peaceful family life. The song appeared in a new era of freedom and artistic expression for Black artists following the Civil Liberties struggles of the 1960s in the United States and also the independence movement on the African continent. In the seventies, Black artists felt free to produce artistic objects that “were not rooted in struggle, but in joy, love, fun and the black family, while subtly addressing social injustices from within”[2]. This is the premise of the Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) exhibition. Curated by Azu Nwagbogu, it addresses “the postmodern idea of Blackness through Black Portraiture”[3], with works by Zanele Muholi, a visual activist from South Africa who works with photography, and Ayogu Kingsley, a Nigerian artist dedicated to hyper-realistic painting.

The first major figure we recognise on entering the exhibition is that of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, in a portrait painted by Ayogu Kingsley. This is part of the Icons in The White House series. It shows Basquiat in the famous Oval Office, in a relaxed position, smoking a cigar and looking at us. Ayogu’s imagination is the great fuel of his works. In this series, the artist paints important cultural and political icons that influenced him as President of the United States. Also part of this series, Ayogu presents Malcom X (2012) and Thomas Sankara (2021) at HANGAR. In Malcom X’s portrait, a prominent man in the struggle for the rights of the African-American population during the fifties and sixties, there is one detail in the decoration of the Oval Office that stands out: the painting hanging on the wall is a naked Black figure. With the desire to rewrite history, Ayogu paints something never seen before on the walls of this room. After all, no work painted by Black artists has been exhibited in the oval room for the past six decades[4], further increasing the symbolism of this image.

In the second moment of the exhibition, the gallery walls are taken by Zanele Muholi’s photographs. Their mission is to “rewrite a black, queer and trans visual history of South Africa so that the world knows our resistance and existence at the peak of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond”[5]. In Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), Muholi displays performative self-portraits with monochromatic, high-contrast tones. Muholi points the camera at themself, looking almost always into our eyes, in a sequence of classical poses. They use everyday props and transforms them into hair accessories or jewellery. In Aphelile X, DURBAN (2020) an arch is formed with toilet paper rolls, creating a kind of niche where Muholi places themself underneath; Bester, New York (2019) has clothing springs as the main adornment, used in the hair and as if they were a necklace; in VIKA IV, THE DECKS, CAPE TOWN (2019), crosses create a unique adornment, which passes through the hair and runs along the entire bust. The props chosen by Muholi challenge us to recognise the beauty in items we would not normally be expecting, composing portraits that underline Black history and identity.

Ayogu Kingsley and Zanele Muholi share the Black African experience. Through painting and photography, they attempt to break down the standards of contemporary visual culture. Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) has particular relevance in Portugal, a country deeply marked by its colonial past.

We leave here a note about the curator Azu Nwagbogu, who has played a fundamental role in the dissemination and study of African art. He is the founder of the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) and editor of Art Base Africa, a virtual space to discover and learn about contemporary art from Africa.

The exhibition will be at HANGAR – Centro de Investigação Artística until January 29, 2022.


[1] The Temptations, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), 1971

[2] Excerpt from the introductory text of the exhibition, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).

[3] Excerpt from the introductory text of the exhibition, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).

[4] Buchanan L. and Stevens M. (2021) in The art in the Oval Office tells a story. Here’s how to see it. Available in:

[5] Excerpt from the introductory text of the exhibition Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).


Laurinda Marques (Portimão, 1996) has a degree in Multimedia Art - Audiovisuals from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Universidade de Lisboa. She did an internship in the Lisbon Municipal Archive Video Library, where she collaborated with the project TRAÇA in the digitization of family videos in film format. She recently finished her postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition “Na margem da paisagem vem o mundo” and began collaborating with the Umbigo magazine.

Signup for our newsletter!

I accept the Privacy Policy

Subscribe Umbigo

4 issues > €34

(free shipping to Portugal)