don't talk: Tegene Kunbi

18 February - 19 March 2023
There is much to say about the development of abstract painting as both a practice and a concept. In its history, it has been dissected, debated, stripped apart, and put back together. It's linked to national identities, politics, social movements, and even the spiritual. We must never attempt to ignore these histories or limit them in scope as they presently live in the current creation of abstraction. Tegene Kunbi, not only understands this, he relishes in it. It's the very process existing within his work that represents not only the history of abstract painting but the narratives that live within him as an artist, an Ethiopian, and an individual.
Formally educated in realism with the academic influences of European and Russian teachers, Tegene Kunbi relates himself to abstract greats like Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich, and Jackson Pollock, among others, in the sense that to abstract the world, we must first understand it. Like those before him, he views the study and creation of abstract painting as a rebellious act against the academic and politicized world of the institution. For Kunbi, this rebellion comes about in the abstraction of bright and colourful textiles, shapes, and landscapes that reference his home country of Ethiopia. A painterly but methodically abstract approach to nostalgia and identity. Every painting begins as a map of a history; a representative character that exists in his memory but is then freed to evolve every new day that he picks up his brushes and knives. Within him, he carries the weight of lived experience and social politics, but it is the optimism with which he works that is visible in the heavily textured layers, multi-tonal colour choices, and the landscape-like imagery represented against the backdrop of his current home, Berlin.
In don’t talk, Tegene Kunbi doesn’t look to impose meaning instead, he represents the act of painting. The narratives that live within him and the politics of his work serve to create. What we see is the result of a life lived, labour, and study. For Kunbi, it is also about the love for the work. The challenge of facing several canvases at a time, the constant conflict of layering colour and line one on top of the other while instrumental music moves him to jump from piece to piece like a composer gesturing towards his orchestra. Every work is an individual note that exists in harmonious dialogue with the other. How he chooses to work represents an allegorical approach to life: There may be standards, basic rules of engagement, and structural composition, but every day brings about new possible choices, resolutions, and the freedom to change course.