IN 2020, as an in-demand muralist, Lakwena Maciver (Features, August 28, 2020) created large-scale paintings on two public basketball courts in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Working with the main forms of the components of the court, its bold and vibrant design combines geometric patterns with acid colors and dynamic and emancipatory texts.
His “Jump Paintings” reflect the success of Pine Bluff’s installation on wood chosen to match that used for basketball courts. Each painting is an abstract portrait of an inspirational basketball player – Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman, etc. – and has the same height as the represented player.
The text frames the court depicted in each painting, like the advertisements frame a real court. Each painted terrain features a center circle, a three-point line, and the paint. Around these, Lakwena positions shapes, text, colors and images that symbolize the player in question. These are layered paints, which also use glitter and polyurethane coated stickers to create a pop feel and a finish that shimmers and shines.
The Pine Bluff Courts honored Senator Stephanie Flowers, whose impassioned 2019 speech against the “Stand Your Ground” legislation went viral and inspired Lakwena to follow the Black Lives Matter movement the following year. Through basketball-related expressions such as “see me shoot”, “make it rain” and quotes from “Still I Rise”, by Arkansas resident and poet Maya Angelou: “bury me / I still rise and “look at me flower,” Lakwena transforms this courtyard into a canvas of hope in the face of oppression and blessing in the face of adversity.
She pulls the same trick with the “Jump” works, which she describes as paintings “about aspiration, dreaming and the connection between people, but also about the connection between heaven and earth and ourselves in as individuals in relation to a higher power”.
Lakwena also said she likes “the notion of the basketball court as a platform or a stage where the players become almost like superheroes. . . The heights to which they rise. . . it is as if they are flying, somehow able to rise above the limits of this world. Similarly, artist Arthur Jafa has suggested that “Black people have an acute sensitivity to . . . vectors or spatial arrays.
One place where this can be seen is in basketball: “A player (both moving and moving) from almost anywhere on the floor can throw the ball into a trajectory where it will arc, go down and cross the hoop.” Jafa explains: the person throwing the ball must “calculate on the fly the speed and trajectory at which this object must be thrown so that it lands at a predetermined point”. So, “you have to perceive these two different things (what it’s supposed to do and what it actually does) simultaneously. It’s really about flow – flow through the numbers. . . And it joins [the] distinction between movement and motion.
Lakwena’s paintings feature similar moves and movements, which is not surprising, given that “basketball is unquestionably dominated by African Americans and their style of play has shaped the game”.
Another installation by Lakwena that gives the impression of being lifted into the air, skyward, like a contemporary vision of paradise – a haven above the turbulent world below, an oasis of colorful calm – is Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground. This installation transforms a half-acre rooftop terrace above Temple Station between the River Thames and the Strand into The artist’s garden. The phrase “Nothing can separate us” seen at the entrance is a powerful spiritual message with meaning on many levels: deep love, physical and spiritual bonds, and the strength of unseen bonds.
Lakwena says she creates painted prayers and meditations, although her kaleidoscopic works, which vibrate and sparkle with color, life and energy, are not what most would imagine just reading this sentence without having seen her work. The dynamism of adornment in his work signifies valor and glory, while his content is fully forward-looking, seeking a higher, deeper, fuller, sweeter, older, newer future, bolder, brighter and more glorious.
With the “Jump Paintings” and the Back in the air installation, it gives us a glimpse of paradise on earth, prompting us to seek and soar to higher lands by means of a higher power.
“Lakwena Maciver: Jump Paintings” is at Vigo Gallery, 7 Masons Yard, London SW1, until 28 February. www.vigogallery.com
Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground is at Temple Underground Station, Victoria Embankment, London WC2, until April 30.