What does it mean to be an African in the international art world? Taher Jaoui lets the genie out of the bottle in dynamic exhibitions that straddle the cusp of past and future, ancient and modern, abstraction and representation.
The work of Tunisian-born contemporary artist, Taher Jaoui, has been exhibited in fine galleries as far afield as Croatia, Korea, the US, France, Germany and the UAE, most recently landing in Johannesburg, South Africa for his latest exhibition, “Genie in a Bottle”.
This latest offering, which opened amid great anticipation among South African collectors at the Graham Modern and Contemporary gallery in May 2019, tells a story of Africa’s place in the cultural melting-pot that characterises not only the art world but the world of commerce and culture in the globalised age.
Taher’s history – like his art – is palimpsestic; constructed of multiple layers, each one building on and communicating with the last.
Born in Tunisia, he has worked as an engineer and actor, finally deciding to put all his energy into painting after settling in Berlin in 2014. Deciding on painting as his medium of choice, his love of acting and mathematics have inspired his art as much as his North African roots, European street art, and the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s.
“My technique is based on adding elements to a composition in layers. I draw my inspiration from abstract painters, Berlin street art and the art of African tribes," says Taher. "I spent years painting my walls in my flat while I was in acting classes in Paris and LA. I was using painting as a tool to unlock my emotions before playing the scene.” The attention garnered by the artist’s paintings on his apartment walls ultimately inspired his decision to make this his full-time career.
Taher’s work walks the knife-edge between painting and drawing, and between abstraction and representation. Through a personal language in his compositions, he aims to stimulate the viewer's feelings and imagination, letting each build their own interpretation.
His compositions, though often deeply abstract, often feature figurative elements – heads, hands and eyes, as well as mathematical symbols and street-art references – to emphasise this tension.
“I translate my impulse of the moment into action with a media on the surface," Taher says. "I work on establishing a subconscious dialogue between the composition and my instant feeling. I add traces (colours, shapes or pieces of paper) to the surface only when I feel emotionally connected to the moment.”