Critics’ Picks

Cinga Samson, iRhorho 2, 2019, oil on canvas, 33 x 25 x 2 1/2".

Cape Town

Cinga Samson

blank projects
10 Lewin Street, Woodstock
May 30–July 27

Beauty is a key aspiration for Cinga Samson, whose exhibition “NaluLwandle, NaliKhaya” (Here’s the Sea, Here’s Home) includes his lauded Afro-gothic portraits of lone, blank-eyed male subjects. Stylistically, Samson’s flatly painted canvases, with their clearly delineated figures in architectonic landscapes, sit somewhere between the magical amateurism of Henri Rousseau and the gregarious figuration of Kerry James Marshall. iRhorho 1–6 (all works 2019) comprises six three-quarter portraits of young men posed in generic rural landscapes, though the scenography is less important than the brilliantly observed minutiae that complicate each work: an untied belt, a half-peeled fruit, a pair of purple sneakers, a cocktail umbrella. A crepuscular study of a shirtless man wearing only a gold chain (isibawu 3) tantalizes for its stripped-down simplicity and seductive pageant of campy exuberance, comportment, and fragility.

The centerpieces of this exhibition are three large canvases, Izilo Zomlambo 1–3, that loosely reimagine a traumatic family story of an aunt who drowned but was later resurrected from the dead by a shaman. The rural context of the original tale has, however, been given a makeover. Working with a group of friends wearing only distressed blue jeans and the odd scarf, the artist choreographed a sequence of portraits on a beach at Bakoven, an exclusive Atlantic suburb of Cape Town, which Samson translated into enigmatic tableaux vivants in his studio. Izilo Zomlambo 2 depicts a central figure ritualistically holding a human skull and flanked by twelve youths; two lilac flowers arc through the gray sky. These ambitious new works invoke Paul Cézanne’s The Large Bathers, 1898, but also recall the oeuvre of Deborah Poynton, a contemporary realist painter who typically portrays her white subjects in verdant Cape Town settings. Samson similarly transforms an exclusive littoral into a magical elsewhere in which youth, community, sacrament, and beauty coincide.