In a new normality that has forced us to spend the vast majority of our waking hours indoors living and breathing technology, the possibility of escape has become a necessity, while going outside is no longer a necessity for escape.
Kayava’s work, rich in colour, texture, humour offers a good enough alternative and a mind-travelling destination for art-addicts to find solace and adventure in our imagination.
KAYAVA, "Veni, vidi, vici", Oil painting on canvas, 50x60 cm, 2016
In Kayava’s ‘Veni vidi vici’ I found objects and paints that move away from popular media and urban landscapes and closer to iconography and 3D realities that I can access even from the confines of my own room. His art has been compared to Basquiat’s mixed media works because of the incorporation of abstraction, figuration and historical information in his paintings. With Haiti’s rich history and culture as a backdrop, Kayava’s art travels across the globe to depict a world where creativity confers a social commentary on the ubiquitous experiences of unjust power structures, systems of racism and inequality.
This year’s major events so far -from the BLM movements to voting rights and from climate justice to accessible healthcare- have forced us to address big picture social issues. At the same time, taking action has never felt more restrictive for the skilful and experienced, who nevertheless still undertake small projects impacting local communities.
Under this light, Kayava’s ‘Veni vidi vici’ is an acutely political visual poetic calling for an introspection that directly criticises the lack of official support. However, it also reverses the same value judgements it draws inspirations from, by bringing the world together through ‘glocalising’ the ingenious vision of Haitian art and functioning as a tool for identifying small ways to achieve big changes.
Taking a closer look to the painting, it felt to me as if the vivid bright colours and the earthy background work together to give an overall impression of a sympathetic mood yet also a jarring clashing between the artificial and the natural, the shadows and the utopia as themes that are so distinctive in Kayava’s work.
Linking that back to the ‘veni’ part of the title, the seemingly discordant tone of the colours, the blended dark and bright values remind me of the confusion and chaos of the past year, the controversial strategies, the inconsistency in the news on how we got here in the first place and where we’re going.
Thinking of ‘vidi’ and all the things we saw, not only the darkness of death, illness, war and natural disasters, blended with the uncertainty and anxiety about our personal struggles, but also the acts of kindness, the global mobilisation and sincere advocacy for social and racial justice, the universal movement for solidarity. We witnessed genuine connection and togetherness, the same harmonious intensity that is communicated in Kayava’s passion for the mystic. The light shining in from the side catching the ridges, casts small shadows that both haunt our thoughts and reflect the somber mood of this ‘Mystic Eye’ world.
The arrangement of the elements in the painting guides our eyes around the composition revealing the intentions behind the overlapping, almost cluttered positioning of the distorted, exaggerated figures in the frame. This technique generates a warm and intense, yet realistic and natural feeling of peace with our spirits. As Kayava says about the spirits in his paintings: ‘They are part of us. They draw the lines, the forms and the colours. Their shadows guide [our] inspiration.’ From rainbows going up in windows across the UK to support the NHS care workers, to seed sowing, dancing, crafting and e-connecting with others, these little inspirations and bursts of joy have become our ways of dealing with our shadows.
Communities still come together in virtual streets to express compassion, hope and courage through art and creativity. In recognising the value of these new ways of expression stands our victory. ‘Vici’, because in this close-up static depiction of implied gesturing and abstraction, I see a world of fantasy and mythology; one that admittedly conveys abyssal messages, yet also takes me to an imaginary time-space that can’t be locked up (or down!).
In an art style that was invented so far away from my roots, geographically and culturally, I found faith –be it in the prophecy of the spirits or our ability to always bounce forward. In the versatility of this work, I found an escape – by giving new meaning to the tremulous societal changes. In the opacity and slow-drying time of Kayava’s oils, implying relentless effort and persistent rework, I found clarity -on how to slow down and appreciate the dedication it takes to finish a work like this, using special mediums without access to a safely equipped studio space.
Inspired by the artist’s bravery and resilience, ‘Veni vidi vici’ takes us on a journey of self-reflection, re-charging and self-re-discovery. It motivates us to humbly persevere even if it takes longer than we expected, even if it gets scarier than we thought, as long as we ‘can see the hidden world of [Kayava’s] culture and religion’, we haven’t reached our limit and we owe it to ourselves to come out of this as conquerors.
‘Veni, vidi, vici’ is a wake-up call to remind us all and every one of us that ‘from the ashes [we] have survived the struggle and can now look up and build the future’ (Kayava, 2016).
Haitian Artist Kayava has been painting since the age of 12 and has been active in the art world for over a decade working as an independent artist and creating genuine art which speaks for human connection and social justice on a universal level. Labelling his work under the umbrella ‘The Mystic Eye’ Kayava’s work first took the form of spiritually-guided art in the Caribbean. Engaging with topics surrounding Haitian culture and communities, his artwork uses familiar icons or symbols of Voodoo to connect with the cultural landscape of Haiti. Nonetheless, the symbolisms and imagery in his artworks are relatable to audiences from all backgrounds. Today, his artwork has migrated into London’s vibrant art market to depict a world where the spirits and shadows are brought to life to express and provoke the viewer’s questioning. Even though his current work focuses predominantly on personal expression rather than cultural critique, this painting offers a powerful social commentary related to current affairs.
Author: Adelina Tratarou
MA Arts and Cultural Management, King's College London