Review: Gold Maria Akanbi: BlackFest at The Royal Standard

Gold Maria Akanbi, BlackFest 2021

Gold Maria Akanbi: BlackFest at The Royal Standard

Reading is incredibly powerful. You become part of an audience, listening to your own voice, attempting to recover the empathy of the writer. For an artist more used to paint than pens, it takes a leap of faith to present your voice so directly as to put it in text. Gold Maria Akanbi not only shares her voice, but uses it to channel the voices of Yoruba deities, and their teaching, or guidance to those who need them.

Ṣàngó, the orisha most familiar to most, from the eight at work in Akanbi’s Philosophies series, speaks through the artist as the symbol of virility, and masculinity. But what is intriguing about the siting of the paintings, is that they share a version of these spirits which takes ownership of masculine and feminine gods, and their attributes, for the use of their followers.

Their teachings are shared by Akanbi to empower her audience, as much as to share her own empowerment through them.

Akanbi takes confident ownership of her own cultures, and those that surround her. The use of familiar Nigerian painting techniques set a tone for all of her work, but it takes a deeper look to understand her fluency in those cultures, as well as to grasp her history with the subjects under investigation.

One of those subjects is the female body. Her portrayal of what is ‘woman’ is clear through much of the work in the room, but through the teachings of the orishas, who share their attributes with her. Woman, in the case of Akanbi, is feminine, masculine, virile, angry, kind, thunder, water, sun, life, and death, in one single entity.

The fact I’m unfamiliar with the Yoruba orishas doesn’t matter. Just that I, as a reader in this scenario, am willing to read in their voice through the artist, and ignore my own interpretation.

What’s more, as I walk around the space, Gold Maria Akanbi is at work, adding text to the walls, and building on the installation, in what is as much an invited studio as a gallery. Nothing says this artist cares more than finding them editing their exhibition half way through its run.

The exhibition was entirely static work, with no audio, no film, no projection, but it felt alive. Every brush stroke is purposeful, enticing, and full of definition in every sense of the word. The hand written text of the works which have stuck with me the most, the Philosophies, acted as storytelling.

It’s a shame this is the only visual art exhibition in this year’s Blackfest, but it does give it focus and attention which might have been lost in the noise of a wider programme.

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith
Gold Maria Akanbi’s exhibition at The Royal Standard has now closed. BlackFest continues until 9/10/21