Africa I (Contrasts | Contrast), 1986, watercolor on paper, 58 x 75.7 cm

Africa I (Contrasts), 1986

This landscape-format watercolor is dominated by the head-and-shoulders portrait of a man positioned close to the edge of the picture. He is set at an angle in the pictorial space, his apparent movement seeming to animate the scene. His gesturing right hand almost pokes out of the picture, and his mouth is open as if he were talking to a virtual counterpart. The man’s head and torso, his left shoulder draped in a traditional garment, are vividly modeled in an exciting mixture of blue, green, and yellow tones, with the areas left blank create vibrant light effects.

The man stands between two ways of life depicted in the background. On the left, we see a picturesquely abstracted metropolis in a modernist, block-like design. The other side affords a sweeping view of a savannah landscape with huts, trees, and mountains. While the outlines of the shoulder cloth dissolve toward the landscape, the man’s right shoulder line clearly separates the depicted figure from the cityscape that lies behind his back. 

In the 1980s, the dispute about future ways of life in countries on the African continent was further fomented. Most Africans lived in rural areas that were socially and economically cut off from the rest of the world. Urban agglomerations grew steadily. At the same time, the first critical approaches to a postcolonial interpretation of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula in Western thought were formulated in academic debates. The man’s gesture, which seems to protrude from the picture, makes it clear that the inhabitants of this continent are willing to take their fate into their own hands and to face their interlocutors in the exchange of ideas on an equal footing.