Alfred Conteh USA, b. 1975

Overview

Alfred Conteh is a leader on the vanguard of American portraiture. He uses his studio practice to explore his identity and personal history from a number of different perspectives. Born in Fort Valley, GA, and based in Atlanta, his mother is African American and his father is from Sierra Leone, West Africa. Conteh’s work concerns the ways African Americans are dealing with disparities that have been affecting their communities for generations, especially in the Southern United States.

 

Conteh’s paintings utilize materiality to elucidate the ways in which America subjugates its Black citizens by neglecting the infrastructure of Black neighborhoods and systematically denying Black citizens access to all the rights and privileges afforded to the majoritarian culture.

 

Conteh’s long running series of figurative paintings, titled Two Fronts, explores images of contemporary members of the African diaspora, placing the figures in what are often mundane environments. The subjects of these portraits are the Black people Conteh meets and interacts with around the city of Atlanta, where he lives and works. The surfaces of the paintings look weathered, rusted, and degraded thanks to Conteh’s deft use of materials such as battery acid, rust, soil, and melted plastic. The material presence of the paintings is a reflection of the lives of Conteh’s sitters, who, as Conteh points out, do not have access to the full vision of American-ness.

 

Conteh’s meticulous observation of his sitters, his careful presentation of their clothing and countenance, and the highly emotive and perceptive way that he conveys them inhabiting their surroundings, adds to the profound sense of truthful humanity conveyed by the figures in his paintings.

 

About his Two Fronts series, Conteh has said: “This body of work is a visual exploration of how African diasporal societies in the South are fighting social, economic, educational, and psychological wars from within and without to survive. The honest and false narratives of history embodied in this series are primarily personified in patinated colossuses that commemorate the people, culture, and battles that the populations they tower over have fought and continue to fight. We are at war on two fronts.”

 

Conteh is also well known for his landscape paintings, which possess a dreamlike, almost omniscient quality, conveying a sort of inner vision about the subject matter. The landscapes portray everyday urban and suburban environments inhabited by larger than life Black figures whose flesh have taken on the appearance of certain aspects of their environment, such as rusted metal and overgrown vines.

 

Recent major exhibitions of Conteh's work include Alfred Conteh: The Sweet Spot, Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, Atlanta, GA; Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth., Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service; Visions of a Cultural Commentator, curated by Madeline Beck, Cobb Marietta Museum of Art, Marietta, GA; Alfred Conteh, Selected Works, Harriet Tubman Museum, Macon, GA; and 5 Perspectives, Steffan Thomas Museum of Art, Madison, GA. Conteh's work is included in several major collections, including that of the The Legacy Museum, Montgomery, AL; the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS; Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, Atlanta, GA; and several others.

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