Kelvin Haizel - We Do Not Sleep To Dream: Gallery III, Accra

25 Jan - 14 Apr 2024

Gallery 1957 is delighted to present ‘We Do Not Sleep to Dream,’ a solo exhibition by Kelvin Haizel. This new body of work is curated by Ato Annan and follows a four-month residency with the gallery in Accra. 

PV: Thursday 25th January 2024


Haizel's approach to abstraction borrows aesthetics from local paint shop environments, wherein different surfaces exist as a swatch board for paint samples. The inspiration and process behind these works is accumulative and imbued with a spirit of existential inquiry. 


In the introduction to ‘Decolonising the Mind’Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo, establishes that the book’s theme is inspired by the Guyanese poet Martin Carter’s poem, ‘Looking at Your Hands.’ Carter’s poem navigates the intersection of personal relationships and political commitment, emphasising that personal relationships and politics are both catalysts for change. In the poem, Carter suggests that this transformative journey demands a physical process. However, in the concluding line in the final stanza, the poet passionately urges individuals to dream not just as a passive endeavour, but to engage it as an active force, with a transformative potential: ‘I do not sleep to dream, but dream to change the world.’ From the poem and the many meanings that can be extruded from it, we latch on to the concluding line, wresting it from a solely individualistic endeavour to a more pluralistic one: ‘We do not sleep to dream’.

This proposition raises myriad questions. It seeks first and foremost, to interrogate the nature of dreaming itself, and also speculates on what could be happening while the one dreaming is fully awake. In this sense, it also wishes to figure out the apparatuses through which dreams manifest. For Kelvin Haizel, dreaming constitutes an active state, characterized by hyper-awareness of one's surroundings. This is because any encounter possesses the potential to mark the inception of a significant dream. The many interactions generated by the city can ignite a dream to be actively pursued while awake. In essence, daydreaming isn’t so bad an idea.

In this exhibition, what emerges are echoes of visual stimuli [abstractions], characteristic of specific interactions that the artist has had in cities across the world, which would have birthed an epiphanic moment. As described by Haizel, these moments may be linked to cursorily seeing someone engaged in the mundane gesture of wiping paint-mixing sticks onto a crusty surface or testing the resultant mix of paint on just any surface available in the paint store. The palpable abstract aesthetics generated, which serves as profound testaments to the transactional process, subsequently becomes the source of inspiration for the current body of works.

dreams take form…

Within this specific body of work, Haizel is suggesting that dreams can assume distinct forms, materializing in a tangible sense. In poetic pursuit of such claims in his studio, Kelvin Haizel engages with these so-called “abstract aesthetics emerging from the transactional process,” through a distinctive set of conditions. A prominent feature is the build-up of textures. This happens when literal textures form over time due to the constant tests of paint swatches onto a particular point on the shop walls. In the studio however, this otherwise lengthy process finds expression in a fictionalised manner. As the bumps and ridges emerge, Haizel complicates the surfaces further by encoding textual interventions in Braille onto the surfaces of some of the works. This establishes a juxtaposition of tactile and visual markers – Braille, an inviting touch-accessible language and random fictionalised textures. It is necessary to state that Haizel has been delving into Braille for quite some time now and therefore these interventions have both an aesthetic and content-enhancing function. The intriguing element about this complex gesture is the fact that if one bypasses the inhibition imposed by the customary perception of 'traditional paintings' as sacred and untouchable objects and attempts to decode the Braille, they will be dealing with registers of fictionalised texture [free-formed, flowy, and randomly applied] and the structured, formal and information-laden tactile appeal of Braille which can only be fully accessed through a gesture that privileges touch.

In this manner, the paintings propose an operational vista where touch, vision, interpretation (and maybe mis-interpretation) converge. This invites audiences to engage with the multiple layers of meaning beyond the customary confines of abstractions.

- Excerpt from curatorial text by Ato Annan

Installation Views