Manuel Mathieu: Truth to Power

16 November 2017 - 13 January 2018

Mathieu is known for his large paintings, which oscillate between abstraction and figuration. With a distinctive style, at once gestural and expressionist, he depicts the figure in mutation: testing its physical boundaries and merging with the adjoining environment. Departing from purely formal considerations and his work’s filiation from post-war abstract expressionism, Mathieu’s interest in deconstructing the human figure addresses the history of Haiti, in relation to ideas of dehumanisation and resistance. 

The exhibition focuses on new, previously unseen work inspired by specific events during the successive dictatorships of father and son, François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Known respectively as Papa Doc and Baby Doc, their dictatorships are exemplified by violence, trauma, and a coerced national amnesia that leaves those events undiscussed and ultimately forgotten. Works such as 1963, Numa, Fort Dimanche, Madame M Adolphe, refer to specific times, spaces and people that are closely tied with the history of the country, while others such as The Search speak to the psychological effects of the police state. Here Mathieu paradoxically uses abstraction to deal with traumatic events and to tackle issues around the representation of pain and violence, and by so doing, questioning how art can represent ‘real’ violence without idealisation and exaggeration.

Central to the exhibition is how one can meditate on the political landscape of a space in the painterly form. Mathieu is, therefore, invested in what is at stake in painting and what the possibilities of making social reflection with the medium are. Continuing his interest in the function of painting in art history, ‘Truth to Power’ is situated within the landscape of history painting, the currency of depicting disasters of war, as evidenced in seminal works from Francisco Goya to Pablo Picasso to Anselm Kiefer. This trope positions the political history of Haiti in the broader global and historical context, thereby traversing time and space.

Artist Talk
Manuel Mathieu in conversation with curator Portia Malatjie
Saturday 18 November 2017, 2pm
Free event, rsvp on Eventbrite