Born in the Uige province, Paulo Kapela (1947, Uíge, Angola – 2020, Luanda, Angola) flew to the Republic of the Congo and studied at the Poto-Poto School of Painting in Brazzaville before returning to Angola and settling in Luanda, where he lived and worked in often precarious conditions. Settling in the downtown area and surrounded by materials that fed his practice, he built a creative continuum where life and art were difficult to tell apart. Often called “Mestre Kapela [Master Kapela]”, he soon established himself as a reference and inexhaustible source of inspiration for younger generations of Angolan artists, thanks both to the extraordinary power of his paintings and to his charismatic, prophetic character. His practice should be read as an intrinsically political act, an effort of appropriating and rewriting Angola's colonial history, in the search for a “creolization” between elements of Western domination and the local cultural and social reality that might represent a more authentic Angolan identity.
Kapela’s paintings are imbued with a strong syncretism, where direct references to Catholicism, Bantu philosophy and Rastafarianism are juxtaposed and placed in direct contact. Likewise, in his installations, Kapela used profane objects from consumer society and sacred objects, often displaying them alongside portraits of personalities from Angola's political and financial sectors. There is a hint of religious iconography in the way the artist's installations combine objects and paintings in compositions reminiscent of altars, where human figures can appear surrounded by mirrors, crosses, circles, or statuettes that weave a direct link to Nkisi culture. Kapela thus afforded these subjects, if not a magical power, at least a sacred dimension. Another strong component of his practice is the written word: many of his paintings are covered in writing, often referring to friends and acquaintances, but also full of personal testimonies and anecdotes. These several levels of readings, both visual and literary, collide and create a new symbolic significance through the arrangement of personal, political and sacred dimensions.
Paulo Kapela died of COVID-19 in November 2020.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).