Kenneth Aidoo sees his paintings as film stills: “They have to tell the beginning, middle and end of a story.” The vehicles for these stories are his multiple series of portraits, varying in themes and media but sharing their clean composition: the bust of a single figure in front of a wash of solid colour. The details relay the biography of those portrayed. Some are instantly recognizable as black icons, others are serene in their anonymity, rendered in soft oil pastels against a clear sky-blue backdrop.
Another series, featured in Not an Assignment, dives deeper into history to retrieve stories of Africans in Europe in the Middle Ages. Kenneth captures the lives of Mansa Musa, Alessandro de Medici and Saint Maurice in snapshot portraits detailed to familiarize the viewer with these figures too often omitted from or whitewashed in mainstream history-writing. These paintings are part of a larger research project, in which the artistic imagination supplements that which has not been historically documented. “Their lives intrigue me, I use this process to inhabit their time, a society in which people could follow their calling, unrestricted by the colour line.” The artist pays tribute in this series with oil paint next to acrylic on canvas, bringing each subject forward with a rich gloss. He preserves the lush integrity of his material by applying the oil paint so generously that painterly textures emerge. These dimensions make the clothing appear tactile, their golden pigments offset against the monochrome of the subjects themselves.
In the Kente series, the Ghanaian textile draped over the shoulder of the subject is woven by the artist in acrylic paint on paper. No palette or motif appears twice, as each unique Kente is presented as the visual story of these paintings. The prestige of the cloth and the subjects who wear them are emphasized by the regal theme of the series’ titles: from It is always a good day to be king (2021) to Heavy is the head that bears the crown (2021). The Kente series moreover contains reference to contemporary Black pop culture, including a homage to T’Challa and 2020’s Black is King. This series, especially when viewed as a collective, emphasizes the abundance of stories from which the artist draws his inspiration.
Prior to his start as a painter and time at Rietveld, Kenneth attended the Netherlands Film Academy in pursuit of a medium for his storytelling. As a filmmaker, he took direction of the production as well as his screenplays, motivated by the same sentiment that inspires his paintings: “I keep my stories as close to myself as possible, that’s the way I know how to tell them.”