Minneapolis-based abstract artist coming to campus

Eyenga Bokamba is visiting UWEC Thursday to engage with and educate Eau Claire community through art

Taylor Reisdorf

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March 25, 2020


Eyenga Bokamba is a Minneapolis-based abstract artist who views art — especially installation art — as an invitation for connection, confrontation, reflection and renewal. She will be on campus this Thursday with an installation piece that functions as a human carwash.

Eyenga Bokamba, a Minneapolis-based abstract artist, said she has received a multitude of testimonies which authenticate the transformative powers of her paintings. At 6 p.m. this Thursday in Centennial 1204, the Eau Claire community will have the opportunity to witness and learn about Bokamba’s craft.

Bokamba said some individuals who have purchased her work, individuals who have brought her paintings into their personal spaces, have said it made them reconsider space in its physical, emotional and cultural contexts.

“It invites them into a deep reflection,” Bokamba said. “I have had more than 10 people tell me that once they’ve had a painting in their house they redesigned a particular space so the painting had more room to breathe.”

Bokamba said she taught literature and writing for 15 years, but she’s always been an artist. The artistic ball really started rolling when she was awarded a Bush Fellowship about halfway through her teaching career.

During the sabbatical the fellowship allowed, Bokamba completed a graduate program at Harvard to focus on the arts and education.

“These passions for me have always been twin passions, so the fellowship allowed me to pivot into a deeper questioning of how I wanted to render service in the world,” Bokamba said. “After and during the fellowship it became clear to me that, first of all, teaching and learning happens everywhere and all the time and that looking into art as a way of actually rendering beauty and allowing people to have individual experiences with things I create is also a different way into teaching and learning.”

When creating, Bokamba said she finds herself preoccupied with saturation, translucence and composition.

“My creative process is sort of all the time and everywhere,” Bokamba said. “I create things that I want to see, I create bodies of work that have relationships to the things I want to see so that there’s always some sort of lineage to talk about in terms of the evolution of idea of a particular painting or series.”

Bokamba said constructing immersive artistic spaces has become a particular passion of hers.

Her most memorable installation art experience took place in 2013, she said, when she worked with and in a Minneapolis theater to created physical paintings and transferred them into light.

“Basically everyone who was in that production was moving and dancing through the light of my paintings,” Bokamba said. “Ever since I had that experience I can’t go back, I was completely hooked on installation and lighting design.”

Joel Pace, a professor of English at UW-Eau Claire, has played a major role in coordinating with campus to bring Bokamba here. He said he first met Bokamba at her Minneapolis studio where she was exhibiting her creations from a three-week painting residency in Pennabilli, Italy.

Pace said Bokamba’s use of striking color and layers but also her ability to engage with, illuminate and cross national, international, disciplinary, sexual and racial boundaries and borders are what initially enthralled him.

“Eyenga, in a word, is amazing,” Pace said. “Her artwork is aestheticized, but it’s politicized. So comitant with emotion comes an understanding that her work of art is also a protest to any violations of human rights and this is happening symbolically and abstractly and colorfully. It’s crucial that it need not be direct — there can be this kind of Trojan Horse, a way of her artwork getting beyond whatever defenses or blind spots we may have through its beauty.”

One of Bokamba’s more literally political pieces, she said, was created in 2015 and is entitled “Great Migration.” The piece has places of movement and places where movement is stopped. Its composition, she said, is meant to be jarring and illuminate a particular political reality.

“It represents having so much potential, and then being stopped just because of your inherent being or lack of intelligence or lack of beauty or lack of physical capability,” Bokamba said. “But also because the external landscape, the political landscape, literally stops you at the border from crossing into a place that would be more conductive to your learning or safe or supportive.”

For Bokamba, art — especially installation art — is an invitation for connection, confrontation, reflection and renewal. Through creating, Bokamba said she tries to guide audiences into a state of stillness to allow them to explore existential questions and truly tap into their current emotional state.

Bokamba said she is excited to visit UW-Eau Claire and she encourages attendees to be prepared to interact, to wonder, to question and to openly engage with her and her work.

Reisdorf can be reached at [email protected].