What struck me most when I first encountered one of Gor’s figurative sculptures was the clear formal connection to the beautiful, idealised marble bodies of Greek and Roman Classical sculpture. The Venus de Milo – forever armless to our eyes – incomplete and yet, still regarded by many as betraying the essence of grace and ancient feminine beauty. The fact that these sculptures exist today most commonly in their incomplete and decrepit forms means we, as curious admirers of art from our great Western past seem accustomed and even resigned to their fragmentary naturalistic bodies, mutilated by the earth and the passage of time. But when I look at Gor’s sculptural bodies, I see both the beauty of the female anatomy moulded by someone who both admires and understands it, and also the same conveyance of that eternal state of incompleteness, which relies on our willingness to accept the fragmented human body as sufficient form for admiration. But I also see something different in the specific material that he uses: this rough, unrefined wire – smelling of linseed oil for conservation purposes – presents itself as a chaos of sharp, black lines. The closer you look, the more the fragment of recognisable human form is lost in a tangle of unrelenting lines and loops. Yet, when you step back, the shapes come to together to form something all too familiar to our cultural field of vision.
Gor Soudan’s wire sculptures were the first art pieces I ever helped install and sell; in a temporary gallery space at the first ever Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House, London, last October. Running simultaneously to the renowned annual art fair bonanza, Frieze, ‘1:54’ – a brand new initiative to bring emerging African artists and their representative dealers, galleries and museums to the foreground – proved enormously successful in grabbing the attention of the international art audience in one of the most prestigious artistic settings in London. Working alongside independent art dealer and member of the Tate Africa Acquisitions Committee, Lavinia Calza, I assisted in promoting the amazing new artistic talent fresh out of East Africa that is supported by her cultural platform, ARTLabAfrica.
Never had I experienced first hand the rush and commotion of working at an art fair – the care and thought put into curating and installing the art pieces so as to do every one justice in its visibility and spatial territory, the continuous passionate conversations with art critics, journalists and curious passers-by and the exhilarating rush of selling confidence in your representative artists and their works to art collectors and potential clients. With Gor, it was always easy, because I did truly believe he was special and worth investing in. With my desk positioned directly across from the wall adorned with his numerous, variously sized hanging sculptures – made even more striking thanks to some spotlights pointed at angles so that elongated shadows decorated the luminous white wall like faded scribbles – I found myself enveloped in their mesmerising tranquillity and grace. To me they looked like captured butterflies pinned in a collector’s victory display. Others commented on how they almost looked like three-dimensional sketches due to the stark contrast between the matte black wire and the purity of the white wall. Either way, they were a huge hit with buyers – some were off the market before the fair even officially opened.
When you actually learn where the mysterious material originates from, this collection of pieces take on a whole new layer of meaning: Gor, a young emerging artist working in Kibera, a slum region of the rising Kenyan metropolis of Nairobi, is known for collecting his artistic materials from his immediate surroundings. Previous sell-out works include his successful 2012 series Angry Birds; a bemusing and emotive collection of bird sculptures morphed out of plastic and wire. For this series, Resurrection: The Fire Next Time (2013), Gor has decided to use a found material that he calls ‘protest wire’ – which is essentially the remnants of burnt car tyres set alight during the riots on the streets of Kibera following the elections in Kenya last March. Who could think of using such a unique and timely material – charged with local and political significance – to make such a beautiful collection of female forms? Perhaps their fragmentation takes on a new meaning now, as does the title – but Gor doesn’t give much away and his work is all the more powerful for it. Limited too, as he collected only so much of the protest wire at the time, which not only undoubtedly increases the value of these pieces but also makes them special and inimitable to the same degree.
My personal favourite is Untitled IX – a simple study of a woman’s slender waist from the back, with the hint of a buttock curve emerging at the bottom and a subtle spinal grove toward the top. It reminds me of a corset: to me it signifies the still-present restraint of women’s roles in contemporary Western society, but to Gor, perhaps it meant something a little allegorical and political? I wish I had the chance to grab a hold of one of these sculptures before they sold out, because I think he’s one to look out for in the future. If next year, you don’t manage to get a ticket to Frieze, I urge you to venture down to Somerset House instead, and encounter some seriously refreshing and exhilarating African art.
By Ola Olczak