Patiently waiting on Umar to finish his conversation, I already caught some amusing notions about his life, not as an artist, but as a person and above all, as a father. ‘Wait for me there, and I will come at you in my full nether armour’, talking to a kid about Minecraft. When I got the chance to talk to Umar, I met this totally different, intellectual side of him.
Preceding a show, the LA-based artist first does six months of research, followed by six months of execution. For the third instalment of Ancien Regime Change, 5 rather large paintings, and eight portraits (not depicted) were made. The men in the exhibition title are referring to Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Willem Usselincx. The founders of the trading companies V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company) and G.W.C. (Dutch West India Company) respectively. These Machiavellian persons literally sold the world in a sense. Re-examining the colonial past through his paintings, Umar wants to reclaim the history which has been taken away from Black people. “All that is left over are traditions passed down orally. I sometimes feel as a Kurd, as if I do not belong anywhere.”
In his fictional universe, Frenglish Empire, alternative colonial narratives take place. Umar’s work may be painted in a naive style, but the sheer amount of references packed into it is no child’s play. Not only cultural references are integrated into his practice but also alluding to the hip-hop era of the 80's and 90's in his profound pieces.
The second painting depicts the Khoi, and their Xhosa allies, holding off a V.O.C. landing at Kaapkolonie. Horrific events are portrayed in a simplistic way, leading to comical images.
The main theme of his show is centred around a malleable point in history. “Anywhere in history, things could have been done differently to prevent a problem, but by avoiding those, you invite new disasters. We can take a different path, but we always end up at the same”. While most of the time history is written by the victors, the Chicago born artist also wants to portray the seldom documented victories of indigenous individuals. Talking about these historical events, Umar also stated the absurdity of several boats taking over (part of) a nation. “There had to be some sort of complicity with the colonialist”.
Umar is saddened by the effort put in by some people. “They pay lip service to more equality, but really it is not solving the bigger concern”. Using his works, Umar wants to open a dialogue, collectively, which he thinks is easier than ever in this age, because almost everybody is “connected”.
What are your thoughts about the paintings? Let me know your favourite one! My favourite painting of the show has to be the 5th one. I love how the incorporation of the sci-fi elements, but above all the person in the middle peacefully drinking on the battlefield.
great intro to umar, thank u. Love his work and the Minecraft reference, my son appreciated it also!
4 months ago·
I'm such a fan of Umar's work. Particularly love the one with the snake in the garden!!
4 months ago·
Somehow the order of the pictures is mixed up. Also, one was not attached.
My favourite painting is now the 6th and last picture.
4 months ago·