Tegene Kunbi

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Repetition and Difference                                                                                                                                                                                                 
                                                          By Yohannes Mulat Mekonnen

January, 2024

Walking through the exhibition hall at Primo Marella Gallery, the exhibition attendant is greeted by Tegene Kunbi's extensive collection of paintings adorning the walls. At first glance, the paintings appear deceivingly similar, the looker’s attention is constantly drawn to the repeated grid patterns that are prominent. Consisting of diagonally stretching grids that recur within each painting and across the entire display, this meticulously structured repetition is what gives Tegene's work its intriguing quality. How does this repetition manage to evoke a sense of novelty in nearly every painting?

For Tegene repetition is not only a prominent feature of his paintings, but it is also a working method that structures his studio experience. Tegene views repetition as crucial for arriving at new forms; he sees it as akin to research or rehearsal. Every day, as he steps into the studio, he takes the risk of starting work without a defined destination. This risk is inherent in the artist's life, requiring a kind of repetition that encompasses rehearsal and research to be productive.

Tegene also associates repetition with music; he insists that he can't work in his studio without it, seeing music as inherently constructed in repetition, unfolding gradually over time. This concept of time is intricately linked to how he structures his paintings. Tegene believes that an empty canvas represents an undefined void devoid of temporality. However, with the placement of the first brushstroke, the canvas transforms, suddenly defining its frame and introducing temporality. In essence, creating a painting for Tegene is akin to sculpting time itself. 

Additionally, the cyclical patterns observed in nature, like the changing seasons, highlight a key concept: while these cycles repeat, they're never identical due to evolving circumstances. This notion parallels the idea that one can never step into the same river twice. It underscores Tegene's intention to utilize familiar elements in his paintings to explore fresh expressions of beauty and significance, akin to the dynamic nature of the human face, constructed from a few shared components.

By amalgamating these concepts, we gain a deeper understanding of how repetition is integral to the emergence of novelty in Tegene's artistic practice. Contrary to common perception, Tegene's paintings demonstrate that repetition serves as a fertile ground for new rather than a barrier. Repetition, far from inhibiting innovation, can be the catalyst for it.


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