Friday, February 16, 2007
Etona | Angola
Artist Etona on Exhibit at the Altharetta Yeargin Museum
The work of Antonio Tomas Ana, better known as Etona, was featured in an exhibit held November 4 - 12 at the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum in Houston, Texas in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Angola`s independence. The artist who was present at the opening is well known within his native Angola and has made a name for himself in the international world of art as well. His work has been exhibited in varied venues including the Park of the National Museum and Gallery in England, and the Museum of Africa in Cuba. He has been honored by having his work selected for the Best of African Painters Collection and was awarded The International Prize of Fine Arts by the Aznar Association in Spain in 2005.
The work on display at the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum was made up of the two major media in which he chooses to work, sculpture and painting. His sculpture is primarily in wood with a few smaller pieces in stone while his choice of painting media is acrylic.
His paintings are of moderate size and show a consistency in style, color and composition from one canvas to another. The majority of canvases feature a thinly painted background made up of areas of flat color divided by narrow lines that allow the white of the canvas to show through. Using an asymmetrical composition a group of human figures may be painted into one of the lower corners of the painting. These will often be monochromatic and, in contrast to the flat background, are carefully modeled to show the depth and shape of the figures although facial features are often omitted. The subjects of these paintings are people from his country in traditional garb engaged in every day tasks such as transporting baskets of produce on their heads or a mother with her children. But these scenes of everyday life are small in relation to the background and are always placed in one corner or another as though they are not really the actual subject of the painting.
In viewing these paintings one feels an emptiness as though the artist has deliberately under painted the richness of his country through choosing to use flat unmodeled and undetailed backgrounds. To add to this impression of emptiness, content is moved to one corner or side with little color or definition provided. In speaking with the artist and reading his statements about his art, we know the pain and sadness he feels about the exploitation of his country and his people. These deep feelings of grief seem well illustrated in the choice of subject matter and composition of his paintings.
Etona`s sculpture, on the surface, presents a different story. In its elegance and beauty it seems a celebration and homage to the long and rich heritage of African sculpture. Most are made of hard woods and are worked to show a high polish and glow. On some of the pieces he has left areas of roughness created by nature or insects or accident and in the same piece may be a beautifully sculpted head with detailed hair and features.
He seems a virtuoso with wood. The pieces may twist and writhe in much the same way as branches grow on trees but at the same time they take on human forms that fit with the movement. Some pieces are completely naturalistic in detail while others are left deliberately unfinished or without detail as though the artist wishes the viewer to stop and ponder on the reason for this inconsistency. Some very interesting ones even reflect themes of African art of the past but these have been brought into the twentieth century with new subject matter and detailing. But, as in his paintings, the sculpture too expresses Etona`s concern for his people and his country. Perhaps none more so than the two small stone figures that seemed to represent strong figures trying to emerge into their own identity much as the country of Angola is trying to do as it gets past its years of being exploited by the strong world powers and becomes a nation with its own identity..
Dr. Phyllis Knerl Miller
University of Houston