Opening on 24 June 2016, Manchester Art Gallery will present a solo exhibition by Gabonese artist Boris Nzebo entitled Urban Style. Boris Nzebo’s work explores themes of modern urban life and reflects upon ideas of identity, depicting complex narratives from daily life in the city. Ranging from large-scale paintings to his latest work with steel cut-outs, Nzebo is fascinated by elaborate hairstyles which convey strong messages of personal expression and individuality of the wearer.

In his paintings, Nzebo overlays stylised silhouettes of human heads onto architectural facades and interior spaces. He contrasts these intricate, highly perfected hairstyles with the vivid street culture and built environment where space is at a premium.

The canvases echo the surroundings of his hometown Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. Using a strong colour palette, his works are evocative of the murals and graffiti found throughout the city’s suburbs. Combining informal snapshots of local neighbourhoods, urban architecture and scenes from daily life, Nzebo then superimposes large-scale portraits to integrate people within these urban landscapes and merge the personal with public space. His works are instantly recognisable, individual and universal, employing a visual vocabulary that would be familiar to Douala’s inhabitants.

Born in 1979, Port-Gentil, Gabon, and now lives and works in Douala, Cameroon. The artist started his career by decorating billboards. He became interested in the bright hand-drawn advertisements found outside Central African beauty parlours. He says “The shop signs of hair salons served as my first art books and gave me my first examples of painting”. His stylised scenes evoke the aesthetics of expressive graffiti tags and bold Pop Art traditions. Nzebo’s works also respond to the heritage of celebrated Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere and his iconic black and white photographs of sculptural hairstyles and head wraps. Nzebo absorbs all these influences to create his own signature visual language.

Nzebo’s work was included in Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America in 2014 and Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America in 2015, both at the Saatchi Gallery in London, the UK.

Boris Nzebo: Urban Style at Manchester Art Gallery runs from 24 June – 13 November 2016

featured image – Boris Nzebo – She Want Love