Tuli Mekondjo (b.1982, Angola) is a self-taught Namibian artist who works with mixed media including embroidery, photo transfer, paint, resin and mahangu (millet) grain – a Namibian food staple. Drawing on colonial and war-time photographic archives, Mekondjo’s practice explores history and identity politics.
Her current body of work extends the artist’s strong interest in German colonial postcards. Mekondjo uses photographs with subjects that, at first glance, may seem mundane: mothers with children, men and women in indigenous dress, and scenes of daily life in Aawambo homesteads. By withholding the spectacle of colonial violence, she asks viewers to look closer, to see what is, as art historian Paul Wilson writes about Mekondjo’s work, "permanently captured and frozen within their posed bodies, indifferent facial expressions, and questioning gazes." These reveal what is always present but never visible in the actual postcards, namely the "hovering shadows" of the "colonial masters," photographers, and assumed white viewers, all of whom pin the subjects under a controlling, objectifying gaze."
"Her reworking of the photograph bestows care on the ancestor, while the resulting patterns, veils, and screens of foliage offer a sense of privacy, a refuge from the gaze. Mekondjo embroiders wombs, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cells, breasts and fetuses across the panels. The plush texture and bright colours of the embroidery stand out against the flat photographs and earth toned canvas. The embroidered forms seem to follow their own natural logic as they range across each artwork, but they eventually connect with the people in the photographs and link individuals to one another. For the artist, the embroidered imagery represents traumas that are passed down from one generation to the next, but the vibrant anatomical forms also pulsate with life, resilient and indomitable, which emerges even amid oppression and death."
Tuli Mekondjo’s work has been exhibited at multiple international fairs including 1:54 London (2021, 2020, 2019), Investec Cape Town Art Fair (2020, 2019) and Also Known as Africa, Paris (2019). Her work has been presented in group museum shows in France (2020, 2021) and Germany (2022). In 2022, she has been awarded a fellowship by the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program. Her works sit in multiple international collections. Mekondjo lives and works in Windhoek, Namibia, and is also an educator at Deutsche Höhere Privatschule Windhoek.
Text by Guns&Rain with quotes by Paul Wilson.
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