Africa Inside Me: geometric patterns in the new exhibition by Isabelle de Borchgrave

Green, blue and red ibises have invaded the space of Isabelle de Borchgrave. Monkeys, red suns and mystical personages on huge canvases are climbing the walls of the spacious gallery in the artist’s personal house and atelier, which reminds of an artistic Garden of Eden with a Bohemian flavour. From 11th October to 20th December 2018, her atelier will be the place where Isabelle presents her new series of works entitled: Africa Inside me – Part One.


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The Belgian visual artist is known internationally for her artwork made of paper executed in a special technique. The method involves processing the material for many hours forming paintings, sculptures, installation art and collages. Isabella says that the first question people always ask her is why paper? And she has a simple answer to it: “When I was a kid I played with paper all the time and since then I haven’t changed my medium.” And not that she hasn’t altered the material – she has mastered the craft in a way that the shapes of smooth, ribbed and pleated paper suddenly have the ability to transform into fabrics.

And this is the case with her last exhibition where her paintings are imbued with the colorful atmosphere of African textiles. The works designed in the last year drew inspiration from the weaving tradition of linear and geometric patterns. Sometimes they actually represent fabrics, such as in the costumes of some silhouettes without a face; sometimes they form the background of dreamy scenes with stylised antelopes, birds, and of other places – they give rhythm to fascinating abstracts compositions.


Isabelle de Borchgrave observes the scenes with all the nuances of her palette – vivid hues in contrast: somewhere the pale earth tones evoke the hot, dry temperatures – elsewhere deep blue, yellow and red areas create an intense atmosphere or the awakening of warm colours that manage to find contrast from one another. “It’s all about the colours,” she says, “and how they cooperate with each other.’’


(C) Isabelle de Borchgrave 4
(C) Isabelle de Borchgrave 4


The new works of de Borchgrave are an immediate transference to Africa

One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is that the Brussels artist, who always had a passion for fabrics and colour, has never been to Sub-Saharan Africa before. To become familiar with the patterns and textures, she visited Matonge, the African district in Brussels. She sketched the figures on the street and looked at photo reportages about Africa in her well-organised bookcase.

’’We all, especially those who haven’t gone there, have a different Africa in our minds. Mine is rather brutal, peopled with spirituality and magic expressing power and might, but then I am male whereas Isabelle – even though she is une femme forte – is a woman and therefore more impressed with Africa’s elegance, grace and romanticism,” says the artist Marc Leo Felix.

In the era of easy travels to the other side of the world and ’’we have seen it all’’ statements, people have forgotten to explore their imagination by reading stories, seeing traditional art and dream about undiscovered lands mixed in a cocktail of hues in their visions.


Isabelle de Borchgrave


The exhibition stands out with its pure message

It is not about politics, it is not about a search of revenge of social inequality or questions on racism – it is a real celebration of traditional patterns, forms and emotions of the culture.

One can work without a realistic picture because painting is very much about the perception of the self – of finding a minute to look under a magnifying glass and meet that owl, the elephant, and the wild cat interlaced in symbiotic conversations with forms, African motifs, and most of all with the public.

The new series will be shown in the gallery space of the studio of Isabelle de Borchgrave in Brussels, a more extensive exhibition is on display, including a 4 x 4 meter hut built for the occasion, in which children can take percussion lessons. In 2019 the exhibition will travel to Geneva and San Francisco.