Following a presentation of the artist’s work at Art Basel Miami Beach, the first jointly organized exhibition will open in January 2024 at Hauser & Wirth London
We are proud to announce representation of the artist Uman, in an equal partnership with Nicola Vassell Gallery. In undertaking this collaboration on behalf of the critically admired Somalia-born, New York-based painter and sculptor, Hauser & Wirth and Nicola Vassell hope to model a new kind of alliance between galleries operating at different scales—an approach wherein full transparency and intensive resource sharing can contribute to the further development of artists’ careers and the future health of the wider gallery ecosystem.
Both Nicola Vassell and Hauser & Wirth will present new paintings by Uman in their stands at the forthcoming edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, Friday 8 December – Sunday 10 December 2023. Their first jointly organized exhibition of Uman’s work will open on Tuesday 30 January 2024 at Hauser & Wirth London, where the show will remain on view through Saturday 30 March 2024. In October 2025, Uman’s first US museum solo exhibition will open at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum CT, curated by Amy Smith-Stewart.
Uman’s ebullient visual vocabulary reflects her expansive cross-cultural experiences. Born in Somalia and raised in Kenya, she emigrated to Denmark as a teenager, and later to New York NY as a young adult. Now living and working upstate in Alabany NY, Uman paints lavishly detailed, opulently colored worlds replete with gesture, geometry and evocations of the sublime. While these works are executed primarily with oil paint, she also combines acrylic paint, oil stick and collage techniques. An intuitive artist and voracious autodidact, Uman draws upon memories of East African childhood, a rigorous education in traditional Arabic calligraphy, a deep engagement with dreams and a fascination with kaleidoscopic color and design. With nods to self-portraiture and fictional topographies, Uman’s paintings navigate fluidly in-between realms to explore both the physical and spiritual, intertwining abstraction, figuration, meditative patterning and a reverence for the natural world.
Marc Payot, President at Hauser & Wirth, said, ‘We are delighted to welcome Uman to Hauser & Wirth and embark upon this new partnership with Nicola Vassell Gallery to bring the artist’s work to wider audiences everywhere. Through her ebullient paintings and sculptures, Uman has developed a visual language in which sheer pleasure becomes an invitation for us to question what we see and what we take for granted, to consider that conventional boundaries and assumptions are illusions obstructing our fullest possible experience of the world. In the way she melds elements of fantastical landscapes and abstract symbolic patterns with allusive self-portraiture, her work finds echoes in that of many artists—both contemporary peers and historical predecessors—in our program. Not only is Uman a great addition to Hauser & Wirth, but Nicola Vassell is likewise an ideal first partner in our gallery’s new initiative to form joint representation alliances that can contribute to the health and sustainability of our field. Nicola’s values and vision align ideally with ours. It is a great honor to collaborate with her.’
Nicola Vassell, Founder of Nicola Vassell Gallery, said, ‘It is with great pleasure that Nicola Vassell Gallery enters a new partnership with Hauser & Wirth to co-represent Uman. Together, we are creating an innovative model for collaboration between two galleries of different scales, in the interest of the artist and the future of her practice, while modifying the conventional approach to artist development and its, often, asymmetrical effects on the gallery ecosystem. Therein, Uman can deploy the strengths of both galleries, while we build synergy, ensuring a framework of parity and amplified advantage. Uman’s world, and by extension the power of her work, are ideal environments for such an idea to take root and flourish. Her fearlessness, discipline, curiosity and appetite for adventure, growth, and self-reflection are our guideposts—the shared ideals on which this alliance stands. Hauser & Wirth is a consummate and diligent collaborator. Nicola Vassell Gallery is thrilled to align with them on this trailblazing initiative.’
About the Artist
Uman was born in Somalia in 1980. She moved with her family to Kenya in 1989 as a result of the Somali Civil War, before relocating to Denmark at the age of 13. From an early age, Uman loved to draw and was fascinated by color and illustration. In the 2000s, while in her 20s, Uman moved to New York NY. There, she met Swiss-born, Manhattan-based psychiatrist Annatina Miescher, who encouraged the artist’s intuitive approach to painting and served as a mentor.
In 2015, Uman’s first solo exhibition opened at White Columns in New York NY, attracting significant attention for paintings, sculptures and assemblage works that dazzled with their unorthodox and wholly original approach to layering cross-cultural, art historical and textile-based references. As poet and critic Ilka Scobie explained, ‘[Uman] embodies a fluidity that transcends borders, genders, abstraction and figuration.’
Uman’s work synthesizes the various cultures in which she has lived, with her experiences finding their way into recurring motifs: animals of the East African desert, patterns evoking Somalian hand-woven fabrics, Nordic environments from her time in Denmark, the urban landscape of Manhattan and the starry skies in upstate New York. Since 2020, Uman has divided her time between Albany NY and the rural community of Roseboom NY, places that together form the center of her life and work. The natural world continues to directly inform her art through the physical and psychological shifts of the landscape, contributing to her fictional topographies.
‘I grew up with colorful women, a colorful culture. East African and Somali people love color more than anything. I’ve kept that in me, living here in the West, and I’m using that in my work to tell a story.’—Uman
The element of self-portraiture permeates Uman’s practice. As she says, ‘I think everything I do now is a self-portrait in different ways. Even my abstract paintings, mythical in nature, are self-portraits. I love drama, and so I depict myself with several mouths, and several eyes, just like a creature.’ This kind of autobiographical transfiguration is seen in works such as ‘Grand Dame Uman’ (2022) and ‘Hell in Heels’ (2022). ‘Amapiano Dance’ (2022 – 2023) is a visual evocation of a well-known genre of South African dance music beloved of the artist—an indirect portrait of the sources of inspiration that give shape to her life and imagination.
Uman privileges saturated colors, combining bright jewel tones alongside darker hues in surprising ways. Her mastery of pigments makes possible a trajectory between past and present. ‘They come from my past,’ she explains. ‘I grew up with colorful women, a colorful culture. East African and Somali people love color more than anything. I’ve kept that in me, living here in the West, and I’m using that in my work to tell a story’. The artist’s process begins with the repeated layering of these colors, followed by a removal of paint via minimal but resolute gestures. This approach heightens the materiality of Uman’s works. ‘I find beauty in the canvas itself,’ she has said about the practice of leaving some of her canvases unprimed. ‘It’s a beautiful strong material that sometimes needs to participate in the painting.’
In addition to prolific iconography from her own memories and dreams, Uman uses geometric forms, dots and abstract patterning that resembles mycelial networks. These collide with anthropomorphic elements to culminate in depictions that are at once botanical and intergalactic. The recent painting ‘Samone’ (2023) features a grid of intricately patterned abstractions interspersed with triangulations that are each embellished with a singular all-seeing eye. These exuberant, seemingly freestyle markings recall the Arabic calligraphy Uman studied as a child: ‘When I see how I draw, or scribble or doodle—it always has a slant, like Islamic calligraphy.’ The resulting marks coalesce into Uman’s own highly distinctive language of symbols.
Uman has had solo exhibitions at Nicola Vassell, New York NY; Eleni Koroneou Gallery, Athens, Greece; Fierman, New York NY; Anne De Villepoix, Paris, France; and White Columns, New York NY. She has been featured in group exhibitions at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada; For-Site Foundation at Fort Mason Chapel, San Francisco CA; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK; Karma, New York NY; and Ramiken Crucible, New York NY. In 2022, she was the recipient of the inaugural grant for The Cube at TRIADIC’s FORMAT Festival in Bentonville AR.
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