Khepera Oluyia's work is a powerful mix of the collective and the personal. Through her painting she makes ambitious statements about the ideological systems that seduce, confine and manipulate us in the black diaspora. She challenges these belief systems and provides new models for our consideration and commitment.Jamaica's understanding of political blackness and skin colour are two of her most serious concerns. These are themes she has been exploring since her art school years, combining striking racial portraits with enigmatic titles. Back then, to reinforce her ideas about black strength and dominance, she started using mastic, a black tar substance more usually used for road androof mending. She continues to use mastic in this new series of work, but now she wields its shiny, toffee-like, hot liquid with greater understanding and mastery, sometimes laying it on thick till it cracks, sometimes employing it fluidly so that it creates a 'pollockian' like network of drips and stains.
She cooks this material to make it malleable, working over a coal stove outdoors. Then, she lays it over metal that she has cut, scraped and battered herself. The combination of heating and forging in the creative process brings to mind metalwork traditions of African ancestry. And, the connection is correct because Khepera is working with the same spirit of cleansing and renewal closely linked to the West African gods of Shango and Ogun. Against this background of ritualistic vigour and the real possibility of burning herself, she throws herself into her work using her mind’s energy and physical force to render images from these hard hot surfaces. Even as she is doing this, she scours her inner self for deeply hidden imagery shrouded in ‘the darkness’ of the middle passage, slavery, racism, et al. She wills these images to the foreground from their layered entombment. Faces transformed by the fire: dignified visions of the collective self.