The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer. As examples of such obstacles, I give (among others) memory, history, and geometry.
Mark Rothko, 1949
THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF NOSTALGIA
by Rosanna Albertini
I wonder, what happens with the progression of a writer’s work? Just the same I think, as objects and humans share the same destiny: “an equal indifferent value in the algebra of the mystery.” (Pessoa’s voice) I don’t know why I kept for 6 years UMAN paintings’ files – regularly sent by the artist, and I didn’t write. Perhaps they were a treasure I didn’t want to share. I’m not John Ruskin, criticism was refused by my heart since day one of my journalistic journey. But all this is memory, history, therefore to be discarded. Geometry applied to human reality reached sublime peaks only with Spinoza and Wittgenstein, the art of their minds. It floats like a flock of thin and parallel clouds for a moment, then vanishes. Obstacles removed.
UMAN paintings, I observed them year after year trying not to dissect them with thoughts, for fear they could bleed. Now, in the middle of isolation and pandemic threat, I chose my favorites, grouped by year. I made a new year small exhibition showing the artist’s progression toward clarity, which is the opposite of simplicity. My Christmas present to unknown readers. UMAN painter is a homeless spirit as I am, transplanted in a new landscape far way from the native place. Over time, the two homelands merge in each of our bodies but nostalgia remains.
UMAN doesn’t paint what she sees, the work unfolds and makes visible the living world of many organs that have ingested myriad sensations in Africa, European countries, and North America, upstate New York. Paintings are life filtered through colors. The artist’s body, as anybody else’s, is porous like a colander. At each instant absorbing the mood of the day, temperature, palm leaves or pine branches swaying in the breeze, a blow of dust, the concert of traffic, preschool children laughing next door, the smell of food on the stove, constantly we are transformed, all life long. And things that happen underneath the skin, things we don’t see nor control, have a story on their own, only some of it becomes words, or paintings. There is no day that UMAN doesn’t think of Africa, when nostalgia shrinks her stomach it is not pain, it’s a sensation of missing something that is strangely already within the person and is eager for more, more of the old home. To be an immigrant is to be forever homeless. Memory is not enough, she also changes when triggered. Spoken stories never the same. Although, watching birds in migration UMAN “wants to be in that moment with them,” this a permanent thorn, and a rose at the same time.
Every day is surprising with the passage of light, sound, as we go through a carousel of scenes melted into one another, our legs are the stitches, the eyes the most selective and capricious camera, while the brain doesn’t always do the work. So much of the process is unconscious. No theories are needed to understand that the major incongruous ingredient in the salad of life is the human being, each single person different from the other like the leaves of the same tree.
Every person sends out her own, digested, or badly filtered, unique world. In home-made short films from all over the world during this pandemic a popular message is repeated: art opens a different way to look at reality. But, what’s reality? if not the singular, peculiar perception of everyone. Artists do not envision a better reality. They are a musical instrument introducing resonance and vibrations into parts of our reality at times ignored, other times dismissed. Most of all, they don’t ask permission to express basic human emotions as they want and can. That’s what UMAN does every day, along with the many usual chores.
Progression toward clarity is undeniable. UMAN paints how Mombasa and her Somalian origins made her, as well as Vienna and New York City. Never followed rules here or there. Indian Ocean, stars in the Northwest desert of Kenya, stars over child UMAN on a mat, outdoors. A pickup truck full of empty water jugs goes to the village twice a day to refill them. Turkana the beloved place for vacation with an aunt. No electricity, except for a generator one hour a day, in the evening, to listen to the news on the radio. Now lifted in her mind, Africa is not distant. Nothing but movement drives the artist’s fingers. Obstacles disappear for mind and hands digging into life and resurfacing full of presents: whatever you see in the paintings is a messenger of the living, in its fullness of pleasures pains and nostalgia almost choking my throat how beautiful and more and more clear they are.
Did I reach my clarity? I don’t know. Merry Christmas to you all.
PHOTOGRAPHS by and from UMAN