Photos by David Ellis
Eyenga Bokamba, a visual artist and designer, modestly insists, “I have an art career because people reach out to me, so I’m like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’” And it’s true—but only in part. Solo show “What Will I Do With All This Freedom?” at the NAWA Gallery in New York City in 2018 led to “Personal Structures” during the 2019 Venice Biennale at the European Cultural Center, where she dye-sublimated her paintings on silk and hung them as cubes from the ceiling of an Italian palazzo. Several Minneapolis exhibitions followed.
But eventually, Bokamba lets the modesty drop. For every show, adds the University of Minnesota and Harvard graduate, she deploys “bravery, discipline, dedication, and understanding. I do everything I can to make sure the answer to the opportunity is ‘yes.’” We asked Bokamba, whose engaging personality brims with intelligence and generosity, about her work and what’s next.
How do you start the process of creating new work?
I conceptualize the paintings in a series. I sketch out an idea for a composition, select graphic elements, and decide on colorways. Next, I map out the idea in a drawing and then hit the canvas. Later, I iterate, meaning I pick a moment within the painting and expand its scope into a new work. The works are conversations with others, and then, hey, they want more friends. So, I find another moment to expand upon.
Describe your technique and inspiration.
I’m painting in the abstract tradition. My main motivation is to create moments of engagement and pause, where things overlap but generate something new within the mixing and mingling of various materials. The intersection of a metallic calligraphy ink and acrylic paint, for example, creates an edge that’s a jumping off point for me to delve back into the work. I’m painting what my mind’s eye wants to see, as I’m motivated by movement on the canvas and synergies between color and light. In a new series, “Adjacent to Happiness,” though, I’m exploring white space and ways to invite the viewer into the painting.
Who often collects and purchases your work?
I’ve been head-hunted by art handlers in New York and Los Angeles who are hired by Minnesota companies to find local artists for their projects, from corporate lounges to law offices. I also love working with interior designers and interacting with individuals looking for an expansive experience—in their home or office—through my work. Right now, I’m talking with a long-time patron about a fourth painting. Their daughter, who is not even 2 years old yet, is the youngest collector of my work.
What drives your desire to create?
My greatest desire is to create work that pivots on an axis of understanding and advances our collective consciousness about what it means to be alive, thriving, and empathetic in today’s world. If people can feel their hearts opening toward a greater understanding of their humanity while viewing my work, that’s the “why” of doing it. That’s my deep motivation.
See Bokamba’s work at the UMN Physicians Mill City Clinic through Sept. 17, 2022, the Anderson Center through Aug. 13, 2022, and Concordia College between Oct. 13-Nov. 9, 2022.