See the World

Tanya Bonello
Curated by Els van Mourik
27 June to 26 July 2020


Curatorial statement by Els van Mourik


In the exhibition See the World, Tanya Bonello lets us travel, invites us along on different journeys to explore our inner- and outer worlds. She reminds us that nothing in life is straightforward and that ‘the path’ will be difficult to follow. The separation of knowledge and ignorance is the beginning of the process of learning and the accumulation of wisdom.

“As Galileo Galilei said, ‘The Philosophy (of Nature) is written in that great book whichever is before our eyes — I mean the universe — but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. The book is written in mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word of it; without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.’”


Africa has a wealth of patterns, everywhere you look you will find repetition of shapes and colours, textures and lines, laid out in all sorts of arrangements. Take a walk anywhere and you will find patterns; decorated houses, a road stall laid out with product groupings defined by colour or shape; the weaving of hair braids; body art and adornments; the woven, patterned baskets; pottery motifs; mask design or the colourful dyed fabrics for clothing. Pattern making in Africa is an innate thing, akin to the rhythm of stamping pigment on fabric or pounding maize with a pestle and mortar.

Patterns generally fall in one of two groups:


Natural or manmade, representative motifs: cruciform shapes, crescents, stars, mosaics, flowers, fruit, seeds, pods, trees. Symbolic motifs are constantly evolving and influences in current societies are reflected in new motifs. Understanding the nature of symbolism as a form of communication will help to understand the patterns of thought and feeling in contemporary societies.


Linear and organic: diamonds, triangles, lozenges, triangular or square chequerboard, parallel zigzags, chevrons, dots, circles, curved lines or waves and spirals. Geometric patterns and mathematical variations, as seen in the work of Tanya Bonello, can be drawn back to architectural constructions, wall patterns and repeating graphic patterns.

Islamic geometric patterns

Tanya Bonello’s work links closely with the geometric patterns which occur in a variety of forms in Islamic art and architecture. Islamic art mostly avoids figurative images, to avoid them becoming objects of worship, so it requires artists to explore non-figural art and to create a shift toward mathematically-based designs. Islamic patterns are created to lead the viewer to an underlying reality and it is believed that the patterns are the connection with the spiritual realm, a way to purify the mind and the soul and to transform.

Tanya Bonello sees art making as a form of meditation and self-connection, where she empties her head and gives herself access to her creative unconscious mind and inner stillness, to allow for a natural flow of inspiration. This feeling of flow does not stop with the artist – it transfers to the viewer, allowing one to experience a deeper and quieter part of oneself, by allowing one to enter a space of present-moment awareness. It is that moment where we can be moved to the core, while looking at art or listening to music.




Examples of contemporary artists in Africa who apply patterns in their works: Ibrahim el-Salahi (1930, Sudan), Esther Mahlangu (1935, South Africa), El Anatsui (1944, Ghana), Willem Boshoff (1951, South Africa)  Abdoulaye Konaté (1953, Mali), Atta Kwami (1956, Ghana), Stefan Blom (1963, South Africa), Victor Ehikhamenor (1970, Nigeria), Eddy Kamanuaga Ilunga (1991, Congo).

Well known, contemporary architects on the African continent are: Francis Kere (1965, Burkina Faso), who designed the Serpentine pavilion in London, Patrick Dujjaric (1946, Senegal) or David Adjaye (1966, Tanzania), who created the Smithsonian African American Museum of Art and Culture in Washington DC.